Air India jet crash investigation begins in Mangalore

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An investigation into the cause of the crash of a passenger jet at Mangalore's Bajpe airport that left 158 people dead is under way.

Indian officials say there were just eight survivors from 166 passengers and crew on board Air India Express Flight 812 from Dubai.

The Boeing 737 overshot the airport's hilltop runway as it tried to land and burst into flames in the valley beyond.

Indian Aviation Minister Praful Patel says he feels "morally responsible".

The plane's data and voice "black box" recorders have yet to be found.

All the passengers on the flight were Indian nationals, with many returning from jobs in the Gulf to visit their families, says the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi. There were up to 20 children on board, our correspondent adds.

The survivors, some of them severely burned, are being treated in hospital in Mangalore, a southern port city.

"As head of the civil aviation family I feel very saddened and a great sense of anguish," the civil aviation minister told reporters in Delhi after briefing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the crash.

"I also feel personally morally responsible that such a sad and tragic incident has taken place."

The airline said the plane had overshot the runway as it came into land at about 0600 (0030 GMT) and crashed into a wooded valley.

Light rain was reported to be falling in the area at the time of the crash but the head of the Indian airport authority, VP Agarwal, said visibility was not a problem. He said the pilot had given no distress call to the control tower.

Mangalore's airport lies on top of a hill with steep drops at the end of each of its two runways. One of the runways was extended in 2006 to accommodate larger planes like the Boeing 737.

Analysts say the position of Mangalore's runways poses challenges for pilots, but the secretary of India's Civil Aviation Ministry, M Madhavan Nambiar, told reporters: "This runway has been in operation fully from 2006... and I would like to emphasise that from 2006 there have been over 32,000 landings in this Mangalore runway."

He added that the Boeing 737 was a fairly new aircraft and that both pilots had experience of landing at Mangalore.

'I just jumped'

Speaking to Indian TV from his hospital bed, survivor Umer Farooq said he heard a loud thud as the plane touched down.

"Then the plane veered off toward some trees on the side and then the cabin filled with smoke. I got caught in some cables but managed to scramble out," he said.

Mr Farooq was being treated for burns to his arms, legs, and face.

Another survivor, KP Manikutty, said the landing had at first appeared to be smooth and then the plane had crashed with no warning.

"Immediately on touching the ground, the aircraft jerked and in a few moments hit something," he said.

"Then it split in the middle and caught fire. I just jumped from the gap," he added.

Air India Express began operations about five years ago as an offshoot of the state-run Air India.

Its Boeing 737-800 jet that crashed was less than three years old.

India's air safety record has been good in the past decade, despite a rapid increase in the number of private airlines and air travel in the country.

The last major crash happened in the city of Patna in July 2000, killing at least 50 people.

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