Locals brushed aside COVID 19 concerns to help passengers of crashed Air India flight, saved many lives.

Munnar: Local residents from Chirayil Chungam, Paalakkaparamba and Mukoottu reached the airport accident site in the heavy rain even before rescue teams to help the injured

Friday, August 7, was a day of multiple tragedies in Kerala. Due to heavy rains and landslides, at least 19 people died in Munnar. And just as the day was ending, at 7.41 pm, a "Vande Bharat" Air India Express flight from Dubai with 191 passengers and crew skidded off the runway at Kozhikode airport. It rammed into the airport wall, broke down the middle, and fell off the table-top runway into the forested area 35 feet below.

Eighteen passengers have been declared dead and 100 have been injured. The numbers would have been higher if the local residents had not rushed to help with the rescue efforts, said officials.

Though it is called Calicut (Kozhikode) airport, it is situated in Kondotty in Mallapuram district. Since the last week of July, all wards in Kondotty were declared hotspots. They were in the containment zone with multiple COVID-19 cases in almost every Panchayat. The Kondotty fish market continued to be a cause for concern. Several inner roads in Kondotty taluk which are connected to the airport have been blocked.

Despite these concerns and before rescue teams reached the airport accident site, local residents from Chirayil Chungam, Paalakkaparamba, and Mukoottu reached the airport in the heavy rain to help those injured. They ferried the severely injured passengers in taxis, ambulances, and their own cars to six hospitals within a 15-km radius of the airport.

A policeman who was on duty at the exit gate of the airport said that initially, they had only heard that the flight had landed. “Within 15 minutes we heard that there was an accident. The Circle Inspector told us to head to the runway. By the time we reached there, all the airport taxis were informed to reach the runway. By then, the fire tenders and residents had already reached their vehicles. They were helping passengers onto ambulances and several came back to help again. Many of us did not have raincoats or umbrellas. Despite being a containment zone, the fear of the virus did not stop them from coming forward,” said the policeman, Ramdas. All those who were involved in the rescue efforts will now have to be quarantined.

The first of the injured passengers were taken to Mercy Hospital, which is the closest to the airport, then Relief Hospital, Farook Crescent Hospital, Baby Hospital, Kozhikode NIMS, and Kozhikode Medical College.

As this was a flight with many passengers from Dubai, several in the area had their relatives on the ill-fated IX 1344 Air India Express. There were 174 passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and five cabin crew. Many of those on the flight had given the reason as loss of jobs due to COVID-19 and expiry of visiting visa as the reason for returning home. A few were on the flight for marriage and others for medical care.

Helpline numbers:

  • 0495-2376901 (Helpline number for relatives of passengers)
  • 0483-2719493 (Control room number at Kozhikode airport)
  • 0097165970303 (Control room number at Sharjah airport in UAE)