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Mangalore Air Accident Anniversary: These Are Five Other Major Indian Aircraft Disasters

The Mangalore air accident in which 158 people died is the worst in recent memory, India has witnessed other disasters. Here we revisit them.

Representative photo of an aircraft accident
Representative photo of an aircraft accident PTI photo

An Air India Express aircraft on 22 May 2010 overshot the runway at the Mangalore airport and fell into a gorge. The accident claimed 158 lives, leaving only eight survivors.

A Court of Inquiry into the accident found that the direct cause of the accident was the plane's captain's failure to discontinue the "unstabilised approach" and his persistence in going ahead with the landing despite three calls from the first officer to turn around and a number of warnings from Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System. 

The Mangalore airport's "tabletop runway" worsened the accident. A tabletop runway is one that's built on a raised plateau-like surface where its higher than the surrounding terrain and its slopes effectively turn them into a gorge. As these gorges are uneven and can be deep, relief and rescue operations are affected in case of an accident.

Here we revisit five other major Indian air disasters.

1. Kanishka bombing 1985

The Air India Express Flight 182, called Kanishka, exploded mid-air, while on its way from Canada's Toronto to India's Mumbai. All 329 people in the flight were killed.  

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006 called it the "worst mass murder in Canadian history".

The bomb had been secretly placed inside the aircraft by Khalistani terrorists and it exploded while the flight was over the Atlantic Ocean, as per a report in Business Today. This is the worst air accident in Canadian history and one of the worst affecting India.

2. The Charkhi Dadri air accident

Two planes from Saudi Arabia and Kazakstan collided in the sky over Charkhi Dadri district of Haryana on 12 November 1996, killing at least 349 persons in the deadliest mid-air collission in history. 

Pilot error was found to be behind the accident. The investigators found that the Kazak Airlines plane was commanded by air traffic control to fly at 15,000 feet, but the pilots made an unauthorised descent to 14,000 feet, causing the collision, according to a Hindustan Times report.

The Airport Authority of India and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation both stated that the Kazakh pilots failed to understand the repeated instructions of the air traffic controller and the Delhi approach regarding the approaching Saudi aircraft on collision path because of their poor knowledge of English language, as per a Rediff report.

3. The Arabian Sea crash, 1978

An Air India Boeing 747 jet, named Emperor Ashoka, crashed into the Arabian Sea on 1 January 1978, killing all 213 people on board. 

The plane crashed two miles from the shore and within only four minutes of taking off. The crash was apparently the result of pilot error and equipment malfunction, as per an article on History.com.

The qualifications of the pilots were also put into question. The pilot had been grounded in 1975 for uncontrolled diabetes and excessive use of alcohol and consumption of alcohol the night before the flight made him more susceptible to disorientation, according to a US court, as per a UPI report from 1985.

4. The Air India crash in Mont Blanc, Europe

An Air India Boeing 707 aircraft crashed near the summit of Mont Blanc in Europe's Alps, killing all 117 people in the plane.

The plane was going from Bombay to New York. One of the passengers who died in the accident was Indian scientist Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the father of the Indian nuclear program. The accident remains a mystery to date and a number of theories have surfaced over the years, which include a possibility of sabotage by US intelligence agency CIA to derail the Indian nuclear program.

Pilot error was blamed for the accident, as per a French inquiry cited by The Print. 

5. The Kozhikode accident, 2020

An Air India Express B737-800 aircraft overshot the runway during the landing at Kozhikode airport and fell into a gorge, killing 21 people on board, including both the pilots.

The investigators found that pilor error was behind the disaster.

The report, cited by India Today, found, "The probable cause of the accident was the non-adherence to SOP by PF (pilot flying), wherein, he continued an unstabilised approach and landed beyond the touchdown zone, half way down the runway, in spite of ‘Go Around’ call by PM (pilot monitoring) which warranted ‘Go Around’ and the failure of the PM to take over controls and execute a ‘Go Around’."

The accident has been compared to the 2010 Mangalore accident because of the table-top runway, which is common to both Mangalore and Kozhikode.

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