MANGALORE: About 150 people were killed when an Air India Express flying from Dubai overshot the runway after landing at the Mangalore airport near here early Saturday amid a drizzle and caught fire as it crashed into a forested gorge, authorities said.
A grim looking Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa told reporters about three hours after the disaster that the Boeing 737 was carrying more than 160 people and "survivors were unlikely".
"Except for five or six people who were rescued, we fear the rest of the passengers (and crew) may not have survived." he told reporters in Bangalore, the state capital, before leaving for the crash site. "It is a grave tragedy."
The plane was carrying 163 passengers and six crew members. The passengers included four infants.
The airport at Bajpe, about 30 km from Mangalore, is in a hilly area and considered one of the most difficult airports to take off and land. The area had been experiencing heavy rains for the last two days.
Aviation experts said the Mangalore airport required precision landing because there is hardly any overshoot area. There was no immediate official word, however, why the plane met with the accident.
The tragedy took place around 6.30 a.m. The pilot gave no distress signal before the plane went down.
Villagers from the neighbourhood were among the first to rush to the gorge as the plane crashed and broke into several pieces with a deafening roar and sending huge flames leaping into the sky.
Firemen and police personnel from the airport quickly began rescue operations, only to come across ghastly scenes of mangled bodie strew over a large area.
In no time, about 25 ambulances and over 20 fire tenders were involved in the frantic operation. But large crowds gathered, including many rushing all the way from the airport.
Some of the charred bodies still had the seat belts on.
Air India spokesman K. Swaminathan said the IX 812 overshot the runway while landing. He gave no further details.
The rescue operations were hit for an hour as the drizzle turned into heavy rains, with parts of the plane having rolled into ravines near the airport.
"It is a tragic incident," Karnataka Home Minister V.S. Acharyal said.
Managalore airport manager Peter Abrahim said there were initial difficulties in reaching the accident.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the loss of lives in the air crash at the Mangalore airport Saturday and ordered Rs.200,000 for the families of the dead and Rs.50,000 for the injured.
He also postponed an event scheduled at his official residence Saturday evening to celebrate his government’s one year in office during its second tenure.(IANS)