May 25, 2010 in Nation/World

Human error may be cause of plane crash

Flight conditions seemed normal, official says
Aijaz Rahi Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Marina Fernandes, second right, wails as she holds a photo of her brother Naveen Fernandes, who died in the Air India Express plane crash in Mangalore, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, Monday.
(Full-size photo)

MANGALORE, India – Human error might have caused the crash of an Air India Boeing 737-800 plane that killed 158 people over the weekend, India’s civil aviation minister said Monday.

Weather conditions and other factors at the time the plane reached its destination “looked absolutely normal for a regular touchdown and a safe landing,” Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told the CNN-IBN television news channel.

“You can’t rule out a human error factor,” Patel said.

Only an inquiry could establish what exactly went wrong as the aircraft overshot the hilltop runway and crashed and plunged over a cliff and into a ravine at dawn Saturday on the outskirts of the southern Indian city of Mangalore, he said.

Of the 166 passengers and crew aboard, only eight people survived the crash.

Patel said there was no rain in the area and visibility was good at the time of the plane’s landing.

Investigators and aviation officials searched through the wreckage of the Boeing 737-800 strewn across a hillside to try to determine the cause of India’s worst air disaster in more than a decade. They recovered the cockpit voice recorder, which they hope will give them important clues, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

A four-member U.S. forensic team also arrived in India to help in the investigation, said Harpreet Singh, an Air India spokeswoman.

By Sunday evening, 146 of the 158 bodies had been identified and given to grieving relatives for burial, said Arvind Jadhav, Air India’s chairman and managing director.

Doctors were conducting DNA tests on 22 bodies that were so badly burned that relatives could not identify them, said Suresh Babu, an official at Wenlock hospital in Mangalore. They included a 2-year-old boy.

The black box would be sent to New Delhi for decoding and further investigations, officials said.

Aviation experts said the eight survivors were seated in the center of the aircraft, near where it broke open, and they managed to get out before a fireball engulfed the plane.

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