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At Least 158 Killed When Air India Plane Skids Off Runway

Rescue teams and volunteers search for survivors of the Air India Boeing 737-800 that overshot the Mangalore runway on May 22, killing most of the 166 people on board.

Rescue teams and volunteers search for survivors of the Air India Boeing 737-800 that overshot the Mangalore runway on May 22, killing most of the 166 people on board.

An Air India Express passenger jet has crashed in southern India on its way from Dubai, killing most of those on board.

The Boeing 737-800 was carrying 160 passengers and six crew members when it crashed and burst into flames after skidding off a rain-soaked runway at Mangalore airport.

Eight people were initially said to have survived the crash, and conflicting reports ensued about whether one of those victims died later in hospital. But later reports said four survivors who jumped from the broken fuselage had suffered serious injuries, three had minor injuries, and one was unhurt.

All the passengers were reportedly Indian nationals, many of whom are likely to have worked in Dubai. There were 19 children and four infants aboard.

Authorities did not rule out pilot error as a cause, given the rainy conditions and the airport's perch atop a plateau that pilots say makes Mangalore a particularly challenging destination.

"There was no distress indication from the pilot. That means between pilot and air traffic communication there was no indication of any problem reported by him," V.P. Aggarwal, the director of India's Airports Authority, told a news conference in New Delhi, according to Reuters. "Still, there has been an accident, the fact is that there has been an accident, so this has to be thoroughly realized and checked by the regulator, the [Director General Civil Aviation]. After recovery of the black box and analysis of the data, we will be arriving at the right conclusion."

Air India Express is the budget arm of the loss-making, state-run carrier Air India.

Stalin Mayakutti, one of the survivors, said the plane crashed into something in the forested area below the hilltop runway before catching fire shortly after 6:00 a.m. local time.

"While landing on the runway, the plane fell down. It shook," Mayakutti told Reuters from a local hospital, where he was being treated for minor injuries along with other survivors. "The pilot braked suddenly, the plane hit something, caught fire and burst into pieces. I jumped out when the pilot braked, along with another four or five people."

One television report said the plane hit a radar pole on landing.

Another survivor, identified only as Krishna, said some of the survivors made their way out of the forest on their own.

"While landing at the airport, the plane deviated and hit something. It caught fire and we fell out," Krishna said, according to Reuters. "We looked up and saw some opening and came out through that route. We came out of the jungle and reached a railway track. From there, some people brought us to the hospital. There were five of us."

It was India's first major crash in a decade. The country's last major air disaster took place in July 2000, when an Alliance Air plane plunged into a residential area during a landing attempt in the eastern city of Patna, killing at least 50 people.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed condolences and promised compensation for relatives of the victims.

Boeing said in a statement it was sending a team to provide technical assistance to the crash investigation.

written by Claire Bigg based on agency reports