Passengers who survived the crash piece together the minutes before tragedy struck – and the moments after.

Air India flight which crashed and split into pieces
news Air India Express crash Monday, August 10, 2020 - 18:45

Shahad Banu was allotted seat 23C on Air India Express 1344, that took off from Dubai on August 7, and crash landed in Calicut at 7.40 pm IST. The 26-year-old was one of the survivors in the crash that took 19 lives, including the pilots. While there have been a lot of discussions on what could have led to the crash, and whether table-top runways are safe, for Shahad and others inside the plane, who were finally returning home on a rescue flight, what happened will be etched in memory forever. “I felt that the flight was hovering in the air for far too long,” Shahad tells TNM, recalling the minutes before the crash. “When we landed the second time, it did not feel normal at all. In fact, it felt like we were being pulled to the front and the wheels were moving through gravel.”

“There was a loud, screechy noise and then the flight seemed like it was in air again,” Shahad Banu recalls – perhaps the exact moment when the aircraft overshot the tabletop runway, “within seconds, the plane crashed.”

The take-off from Dubai

Passengers who TNM spoke to say that for the most part, the flight on IX 1344 was regular – expected. “When I boarded I knew that the air hostess etc will not be interacting with us much because of COVID-19 protocols. They had kept our food on our seats and had minimal interaction with us,” Shahad says. 

A few rows behind her, in 27B, was Muhammad Shafaf, a 28-year-old returning to Kerala after his Visa expired. “While taking off, instructions to put on the seat belt were given in English and Hindi,” he says, “There were no instructions in Malayalam. The cabin crew also acted out the instructions.” 

The first attempt to land

“Around 7 pm, there was an announcement that we are reaching the Calicut airport,” Shafaf recalls, “It was a clear instruction. We were asked to put on our seat belts. There was nothing unusual,” he says. 

“After that however, they did not land,” says 48-year-old Sajeev Kumar. 

“But after this announcement, I could see that it was raining outside,” Shafaf says, “The weather was not very good. I felt jerks in between – similar to what we feel when a vehicle goes over a pothole.”

“I could feel the flight going around in circles,” says 31-year-old Youjin. “It continued to go around for 20 minutes. Usually flights do this when the runway is busy or in similar conditions. So I did not panic since this was usual,” he adds. 

“I was tense when the first landing attempt failed. We expected something wrong,” Sajeevkumar says.

The second announcement – unheard

It was at this point – just before the second attempt at landing – that another announcement was made, say passengers. However, no one could actually hear what was being said. 

“I think there was a signal problem,” says 21-year-old Hadiya. “I couldn’t hear it. I could only hear “Calicut..” This was sometime before the landing.”

“There was no announcement about the weather either... They may have said something, but the signal was cut and we couldn't hear anything,” Hadiya adds. 

All passengers who TNM spoke to confirmed that the second announcement was unclear. On reports that many people had taken off their seatbelts too soon, Sajeevkumar says, “We were all wearing seat belts and nobody was seen standing after touching the ground.”

“The lights in the cabin were dimmed,” says 39-year-old Ratheesh, “Only the emergency lights were on. Nobody who sat near me took out their seat belt.”

And then, the plane crashed. 

Moments after the crash

Hadiya realised there was a crash after she saw a fire in front of her. 

“A small child fell on top of me,” Ratheesh recalls, “But other than that, noone near me was thrown off. We heard the sound and then removed our seatbelts.”

“I had my seat belts on, so I was not thrown off, but I hit myself on the front seat,” says Shafaf. “But in the seats in front of me, baggage had fallen on people’s heads. The lights went out completely when we crashed, and some people around me were injured. I got small injuries on my knee,” he says. 

Shahad, too, recalls that all the lights went off when the flight crashed. It was dark. On the other side of the aisle, another passenger had a working mobile phone. Shahad used the flashlight on her phone to look for other members of her family. 

“There was a man in a PPE suit lying lifeless in the aisle before us. I was leaning completely forward. My seat had bent 180 degrees and my legs were trapped. My son’s seat next to mine had fallen backward. I could only see his legs,” she says.

“I could see the flight moving forwards and crashing on a wall. I thought actually we were moving, but in fact, the flight had broken off into two and only the front portion moved off and crashed onto the wall,” Youjin recalls.

“I came out through a small opening that was formed in the ceiling, and stood on top of the flight for about 20 minutes,” Youjin says, “I could see people rescuing passengers in the front and middle portion. Only after I waved, some CRPF personnel noticed us and came to this side.”

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