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Investigators Scour India Crash Wreckage, Mourning Continues

  • Anjana Pasricha

Investigators in southern India are still searching for the cause of India's worst air crash in more than a decade. Eight people survived Saturday's crash, but 158 were killed.

There were conflicting reports Sunday on whether searchers had found the plane's flight data recorders. Recovery of the Boeing 737's recorders is crucial for determining what when wrong when the Air India Express plane overshot the Mangalore airport runway on landing, and skidded into a ravine before bursting into flames.

The Times of India reports that the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is sending investigators to India at the request of the Indian government.

Meantime, relatives have been trying to identify bodies recovered from the wreckage.

All the bodies have been recovered from the charred remains of the Air India plane that caught fire after it overshot the runway and plunged down a cliff Saturday in the southern Indian city of Mangalore.

Sunday was a day of mourning as grieving relatives of the victims crowded the local hospital to identify the victims. Many people said they could only do so with the help of clothes or jewelry.

A forensic team is in the city to help with the identification of some badly charred bodies.

The passengers were coming home from Dubai, where the flight originated. Many of them were on their way home for a vacation.

Prayers were held in many parts of the country for the victims.

There were only eight survivors among the 166 passengers and crew members. This includes several children.

The Chairman of Air India, Arvind Jadhav, said he was "overwhelmed" by the help extended by the local residents of Mangalore in the rescue operation. He said they played a crucial role in saving eight lives.

"They brought in the ambulances, people came forward, young doctors came forward, young students came forward, the local administration came forward," Jadhav said. "It is with their help we were able to recover all the 158 bodies in record time."

At the site of the crash, investigators spent hours combing through the mangled remains of the aircraft to find the plane's black box, flight-data recorder. This will provide crucial clues to what caused the crash - India's worst in more than a decade.

Experts say the runway at Mangalore airport makes a bad crash inevitable if the landing is not accurate. The runway is built on a flat stretch of land on a hill, with a sheer drop on both sides.

But Air India chairman Jadhav has said there were no problems with the airport runway, and the pilot who landed the ill-fated aircraft had done so many times previously, and was highly experienced.

"We do not allow a pilot who has not flown in Mangalore, we do not allow him to fly to Mangalore ... this gentlemen who was the commander had done 19 landings here," Jadhav said.

Officials have said they cannot speculate on the cause of the crash. India's Civil Aviation Minister has said the weather and visibility were good, and there were no apparent signs of trouble when the flight landed. A team has arrived from U.S.-based Boeing Aircraft to assist in efforts to determine the cause of the crash.

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