NEW DELHI — An Air India Express plane trying to land in the rain at atricky hilltop airport in southern India overshot the runway, crashed and burstinto flames at dawn Saturday, killing 159 people, officials said. There wereseven survivors.
Dense black smoke billowed from the Boeing 737-800 aircraft surrounded byflames just outside Mangalore's Bajpe airport in a hilly area with thick grassand trees.
Rescue workers pulled out scores of burned bodies from the blackened tangleof aircraft cables, twisted metal, charred trees and mud at the crash site.Many of the dead were still strapped into their seats, their bodies burnedbeyond recognition.
Relatives of the victims, who had come to the airport to meet them, wereseen weeping near the wreckage.
"The plane shook with vibrations and split into two," a survivornamed Pradeep told CNN-IBN television. He said the plane's initial touchdownappeared smooth at first, but trouble started about 15 seconds later.
Pradeep, who uses only one name, jumped out of the aircraft with four othersinto a pit, he said.
The plane had a small fire at first, but then a large explosion set off abigger blaze, said Pradeep, who injured his hand and suffered burns to hisfeet.
The plane was carrying 160 passengers — all Indian — and six crew members,Air official Anup Srivastava said.
By Saturday afternoon, rescuers had pulled 116 bodies from the wreckage,Srivastava said. Seven survivors had been rescued and were being treated inlocal hospitals, the airline said.
The crash was the deadliest in since the November 1996 midair collision between a Saudi airliner and a Kazakhcargo plane near that killed 349 people.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed condolences and promisedcompensation for the families of the victims. Boeing said in a statement it wassending a team to provide technical aid to the government's crashinvestigation.