Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on August 8 that it would be “inappropriate and completely wrong” to speculate on the causes that led to the Air India Express tragedy at the Calicut (Kozhikode) International Airport on August 7.
Speaking to the media after inspecting the accident site, he said Deepak Vasanth Sathe, the captain in command of the aircraft who also died in the incident, was “a highly accomplished, professionally competent, experienced, decorated person” who had landed on that airfield at least 27 times.
“This beast 737 aircraft which landed at 7:41 in the evening overshot the runway at Kozhikode while trying to land amidst what is clearly inclement weather conditions prevailing at that time. But it is inappropriate and completely wrong to speculate on causes of the crash at this point,” the Minister said.
The Minister said that before flying to Kozhikode he had obtained an “absolutely explicit” assurance from the Director General of Civil Aviation that all the safety concerns about the Calicut airport raised after an inspection in July 2019 (such as excessive rubber deposit on the runways, water stagnation, cracks, and so on) had already been addressed. “So, my assertion to you at this point is that those observations were attended to. And let me also tell you that if they had not been, we would not have given the clearance for this thing. But, as I said, there is no point speculating. They are unrelated. Once the investigation is completed, we can revisit the issue.”
To questions on safety concerns being raised about table-top runways and about an accident that happened in one such airport at Mangalore, the Minister said: “There are table-top airports at a lot of places in the world. Table-top runways do pose a challenge, but that challenge is factored in when you give clearance for people and commanders with certain experience to fly there. The tragic incident at Mangalore took place 10 years ago. We learnt lessons from Mangalore. It was unfortunate because the aircraft caught fire. And 170 passengers lost their lives in that. We are learning every day, but this happened only after 10 years. Please let us wait for the investigation to be completed to understand what the contributing factors were.”
The Minister said the solidarity and cooperation shown by the local people, the police, the fire force and others were commendable. The local people were able to reach the airport almost immediately. They cut through the body of the aircraft and retrieved passengers. “It is a miracle; even the loss of one life is a loss too many. But just imagine if the plane had caught fire what the tragedy would have been like.”
“I thank all of them for their services, but, as I said, as far as the cause of the accident is concerned, we will have to wait until the results of the investigation are over. Both the black boxes have been found and I am confident that before long we will now exactly what happened in the last few minutes in that aircraft. Now it is advisable not to speculate. Because all the data that will be required for the investigation, will be in those black boxes, and I am sure the precise reason, or whatever is the contributing factor or immediate cause of the accident, will be known soon. The purpose of such an inquiry is to get a full understanding so as to draw the appropriate lessons so that tragic incidents of this kind do not recur.”
“I want to assure you that we will keep the information coming on a real-time basis but some of the questions that are being asked here are very pertinent,” he said.