23 May 2010

Survivors of Indian plane crash tell of escape

9:52 pm on 23 May 2010

Survivors of a plane crash in southern India in which 158 people were killed have told of their escape from the burning fuselage.

The Air India Express airliner crashed and burst into flames outside an airport in southern India on Saturday.

The airline's director says the Boeing 737-800 appeared to skid off the table-top runway in rain at Mangalore airport in Karnataka state before plunging into forest below.

Eight people survived from among 166 passengers and crew on on board.

One survivor, KP Manikutty, told the Press Trust of India he managed to escape as the plane's fuselage smashed open. He said the landing appeared smooth but on touching the ground the aircraft jerked and shortly afterwards hit something.

"Then it split in the middle and caught fire. I just jumped from the gap," he said.

Another survivor, Umer Farooq, his face covered in burn cream, told the NDTV news channel that the plane overshot the runway, and stopped inside a forest area.

"It burst into flames," he said. "I got caught in some cables but managed to scramble out".

Many of those who died are thought to be Indian migrant workers returning home from Dubai.

Distraught relatives have gathered to identify the bodies of the victims, many of which have been burned beyond recognition.

The ABC reports some of the survivors say they heard what sounded like a tyre bursting shortly after the plane landed.

Indian air safety officials have begun investigating the cause of the accident.

Aviation officials have begun sifting through the wreckage of the Boeing 737 in search of the flight data recorders.

Air traffic controllers say the pilot had given no distress call to the control tower. The BBC reports light rain was falling at the time of the crash but it was not thought to be enough to have caused difficulties.