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Plane Crash Kills 18 in Southern India

Officials inspect the wreckage of an Air India Express jet at Calicut International Airport in Karipur, Kerala, on Aug. 8, 2020.

At least 18 people have been killed and more than 125 injured in southern India in a plane crash that took place when the aircraft overshot a runway and plunged into a valley as it attempted to land in heavy rain.

The Air India Express plane skidded off the runway Friday around 7:40 p.m. and split into two during a second attempt by the pilot to land at Calicut airport near Kozhikode in Kerala state, authorities said.

Officials said the fuselage of the plane broke as its nose crashed into the ground -- visuals showed two parts of the Boeing 737 aircraft lying several meters apart.

Located on top of a plateau, the airport at Kozhikode has what is called a tabletop runway, which has a steep drop at one or both ends.

Both the pilots were killed and several of those injured are reported to be in critical condition.

The plane, which was coming from Dubai, was repatriating Indians stranded overseas since India shut down international flights in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was carrying 190 passengers, including 10 infants and six crew.

They were extricated following a three-hour operation Friday night.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said rescuers managed to extricate most of the passengers because the plane did not catch fire while skidding down the slope.

"Our task would have been much more difficult if the plane had caught fire," he said.

He said 127 people are in the hospital.

Puri said only an investigation could reveal the cause of the crash but said that the weather conditions due to the monsoon rains were unfavorable.

“The pilot tried to stop the plane at the end of the runway, but the accident happened due to the slippery conditions,” Puri said.

Heavy monsoon rains have battered Kerala in recent days.

Some injured passengers told reporters that the pilot had warned the passengers that the weather was very bad.

Security personnel on the airport’s perimeter could see the crash happening and rushed to the crash site, M.A. Ganapathy, the special director general of the Central Industrial Security Force, told NDTV TV channel.

Authorities said Saturday that the digital flight recorder has been recovered from the aircraft.

“Pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

“My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover at the earliest,” he continued.

Tens of thousands of people in Kerala state work in Middle East countries. Although international flights have still not been resumed, state-run carrier Air India has been operating hundreds of flights since May to bring those stranded overseas back.

This was the worst plane crash in India since 2010, when an Air India plane also overshot a runway in the southern city of Mangalore and caught fire. The toll in that accident was 158.

The plane tragedy was not the only disaster to strike the southern state as it is lashed by heavy monsoon rains. At least 17 people died in a landslide that struck hilly areas of the state on Friday.