Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tragedy in the skies: Day 2

DNA experts to help in identifying bodies
The team of DNA experts from Hyderabad, who arrived in Mangalore on Sunday morning to help in identifying the bodies of the Air India plane crash, has its task cut out. The team will stay in the coastal town till each victim's body is identified. Most of the bodies have been charred beyond recognition in the plane crash.

A dispute has broken out between the families of Rajendra Ramesh and John Mampilly, both of whom have staked claim for the same body. Ramesh is a resident of Mangalore while John hails from Kasargod in Kerala. The authorities at the Wenlock Hospital had a tough time on Sunday in handling the two grief-stricken families.

The DNA experts from Hyderabad have collected samples from the body, but the results will take a couple of days to arrive.

According to a member of the team, it will take at least seven more days to identify the 12 unclaimed bodies of victims. The Wenlock Hospital authorities have urged the relatives of the deceased to remain calm and assured them that they are doing their best.

Air India has announced that it will fly special flights between Dubai and Mangalore and has urged the Centre to issue interim visas to relatives of the deceased who stay abroad.

Cockpit Voice Recorder recovered

The team from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which is probing the Air India plane crash that claimed 158 lives near the Mangalore airport on Saturday, has been divided into four groups to look at a particular aspect of the crash. The four teams will look into engineering and wreckage, operations, air traffic control and aerodrome.

A release from the civil aviation ministry states that wreckage group has further been divided into smaller groups to search for a particular kind of evidence.

The search team on Sunday recovered the Cockpit Voice Recorder from the wreckage. Though affected by fire, it is expected to yield the desired information.

The Digital Flight Data Acquisition Unit, a parallel unit of the Digital Flight Data Recorder which records flight parameter for a shorter duration, has been recovered.

A preliminary replay of the Air Traffic Control tapes has been already carried out and a detailed analysis is being carried out, says the release.

It adds that the preliminary investigation of navigational facilities, the aerodrome and runway facilities at the time of the accident has been completed.

Necessary records about the plane and the crew members have been taken for detailed analysis. The analysis of CVR, flight data and the various records will take nearly a fortnight.

Search for the black box continues..

The search for the black box of the ill-fated Air India flight -- which crashed near Mangalore airport on Saturday morning killing 158 people on board -- will commence at 6.30 am on Monday. Search operations were called off on Sunday due to poor light.

Though the search team could detect signals from the black box, it was unable to retrieve the box buried under the massive wreckage at the crash site, a source told rediff.com.

The black box is crucial for the investigation into the reason behind the crash as it will help the probe team ascertain the exact reason behind the plane overshooting the runway and plunging into the ravine.

The search party managed to recover the cockpit voice recorder, but the probe team from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation may not be able to glean much information from it, other than a recording of the Air Traffic Controller giving its clearance for the landing.

ATC officials had already told the DGCA team that they lost touch with the pilots in the final moments before the plane crash.

The DGCA personnel, who are investigating the crash, say that it appears to be a case of pilot's error. "We have inspected the runway and the crash site as well as the object the plane hit and it appears that the pilot was at fault. We are waiting for the black box which will give us a clear picture," said a DGCA official.

12 bodies to be still identifed: AI cheif

Twelve bodies of the victims of the Air India plane crash in Mangalore were yet to be identified, said AI Managing Director Arvind Jadhav in a press conference on Sunday.

"I regret what has happened," he said, adding that AI will provide Rs 10 lakh compensation to the families of victims above the age of 12 and Rs 5 lakh for the kin of those below that age.

He also announced compensation of Rs two lakh for the injured victims, but added that AI was in consultation with insurance companies on how to take this further.

Jadhav informed that bodies of 128 victims had been handed over to their families.

When asked about the investigations into the reason behind the crash, he said that the airline was not involved with that as the "Directorate of Civil Aviation was probing the crash."

On the issue of expat pilots, he said, "As per the DGCA's rule, we need to take prior
permission before an expat pilot flies a plane. We have submitted a plan for the replacement of expat pilots. We needed them because we needed experienced pilots to fly new aircraft."

Speaking on whether the pilots were suffering from fatigue, Jadhav added, "There was no problem and both the pilots had ample rest before flying the plane."

The search for the plane's black box was going on and it had not been found yet, he said.

Urging people and the media not to speculate on the reasons behind the crash, Jadhav said speculations would harm the interests of the victims.

"It was an international flight. It has international ramifications. Speculations will hurt the interests of the passengers," Jadhav said.

"Only 12 per cent of the operations have been affected. On Air India Express, 90 per cent of the operations are on," he said.

"We are overwhelmed by the kind of response (we got) from the local villagers who reached the spot and helped in rescue operations. Without them, the eight persons could not have survived," Jadhav said.

Hope and grief

Tales of tragedy, grief, dashed hopes and relief surround the crash of the Boeing 737-800 in Mangalore. While some of them are about people who missed the ill-fated flight by a whisker, others are about passengers who took the doomed flight at the last minute.

Among the many tragic stories about the crash victims, one is about Zulekha and her son Abdul Salam, who were returning to Kaup near Mangalore after eight years to meet Zulekha's mother. But the mother's dream of meeting her daughter and grandson was never fulfilled.

Praveen Sherigar, a resident of Matharu, was coming home for a double celebration. He wanted to attend his brother's wedding and his sister's house warming function.

Jayram, who hails from Bajal in Mangalore, was going to visit his ailing parents with his wife Chitra and son Rahul. In a cruel twist of fate, he could not get tickets to a flight two days ago, and was forced to board the Air India flight.

Steven Rego, 16, can thank his stars and his mother, whose mistake made him miss the flight to Mangalore. He was holidaying in Dubai with his parents and was supposed to return to Mangalore on Saturday. Although his mother had booked tickets for Saturday's flight, she got confused about the timing. She mistakenly assumed that the flight was supposed to take off on Saturday night and hence Rego missed his flight.

K Chandu, who was scheduled to travel to Mangalore for his son's admission, could not do so because of the additional work assigned to him by his boss.

Teresamma Phillip made a similar mistake as Rego's mother. She thought the flight was going to take off on Saturday evening and hence missed her brush with tragedy.

Hospitals become a sea of humanity

Hospitals in Mangalore on Sunday struggled to cope with scores of grieving family members who turned up to collect the bodies of their loved ones. Heart-rendering scenes of grief and disbelief were witnessed at Wenlock Hospital and others, where the bodies of the Air India plane crash victims were kept after the tragedy.

On Saturday night, when search operations were still going on in the ravine where the plane landed after overshooting the runway, relatives of the passengers harboured hopes that maybe their loved one had managed to survive the crash.

But their night-long wait came to a hopeless end when they learnt that only eight passengers had managed to survive miraculously.

A forensic team from Hyderabad has arrived in Mangalore to assist the bereaved families in identifying the bodies, most of which are charred beyond recognition. So far, 87 bodies have been identified, including those of the six crew members, who were all killed in the crash.

"The wait is never-ending and it is tough waiting for experts to identify the bodies of our loved ones. We are just waiting for the obvious," says Sameera, whose brother was on board the ill-fated aircraft.

"It is a day-long process, but we will ensure that we complete it (identifying the dead bodies) as early as possible. We don't want to keep the families waiting since we can understand their anxiety," said one of the members of the team.

Black box holds the clues

A day after the Boeing 737-800 crashed near Mangalore airport, killing 158 people on board, search teams at the site are still looking for the Cockpit Voice Recorder or the black box which may reveal the reason behind the crash.

A member of the Karnataka police team, which is carrying out search operations at the crash site, told rediff.com that the massive wreckage of the ill-fated plane has to be cleared before looking for the black box.

Jija Hari Singh, inspector general of police (fire and emergency service) said, "The black box will be found on Sunday. The work of recovering the bodies has to be completed first and only then can we begin searching for the black box."
The area where the black box fell after the crash has been identified.

The search party has managed to find the throttle of the plane in a forward position, indicating that the pilot thrust the aircraft in a forward position before the crash.

The black box is crucial to probe the reason behind the crash. The preliminary finding of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation suggests that the pilot's error could have caused the crash.

The DGCA is now trying to find out why the pilot overshot the runway by over 1,500 feet. The Air Traffic Controllers had issued a landing clearance approximately 4 miles before the touchdown, but the pilot seemed to have lost contact with the ATC during the final moments.

The DGCA team will also look into whether the plane experienced any technical difficulties at the time of landing. "Although it is highly unlikely that there was anything wrong with the plane, we will still go into that aspect as matter of procedure," DGCA sources told rediff.com.

Photo courstey: Daiji world

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