The pilots of the Air India Express flight (AXB1344, B737) that skidded off the runway and broke into two at Kerala’s Kozhikode are among the 18 people who lost their lives during the tragic incident that occurred on Friday evening. Wing Commander Deepak Sathe (Retd), who was the captain of the Air India Flight and Captain Akhilesh Kumar have been confirmed dead by authorities.
Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe, the captain of the ill-fated aircraft that crashed at Calicut on Friday, was a top-notch Indian Air Force fighter. The survivors of Friday’s plane crash said that it was Captain Sathe’s presence of mind, which averted a major fire after the crash that helped save their lives.
According to the India Today report, as soon as Captain Sathe realised that the aircraft would crash, he turned off the engine right before the crash, saving the lives of his passengers and the cabin crew. The initial reports suggest that the fuselage broke into two after the aircraft overshot the runway during its second attempt to land at the Karipur ‘tabletop’ airport.
The survivors said that the brave pilots and the local residents averted a major tragedy. The local people rushed to the spot and pulled the survivors even as smoke and a minor fire had engulfed the aircraft.
“It was raining heavily. The pilot had given a warning before landing saying the weather was really bad. He tried for safe landing twice but lost control. The aircraft shot off the runway and skidded off and it broke into two pieces. It was a miraculous escape for many,” said V Ibrahim, one of the passengers who survived with minor injuries.
Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe – an accomplished fighter pilot
Captain Deepak Sathe was a decorated former India Air Force pilot. Sathe, an alumnus of the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune, he ranked first in the 58th course of Pune NDA from Juliet Squadron. He passed out from AFA with the ‘Sword of Honour’ in 1981.
Interestingly, he has also served with No.17 Squadron, ‘Golden Arrows’, which was recently recommissioned with the Rafale fighter jets. Captain Sathe had joined the air force in June 1981 and quit the IAF prematurely in June 2003.
Captain DV Sathe was an experienced aerial operator and was also a former test pilot with the Indian Air Force (IAF). He had flown the Airbus 310 for Air India before moving to Air India Express to fly a Boeing 737.
“This is sad. Sathe was a comrade in arms at the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment STE (IAF’s flight testing establishment) with me. RIP Tester. The call signs of all test pilots have the ‘Tester’ prefix,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd).
Captain Akhilesh Kumar, his co-pilot, had been married last year. The bodies of two pilots are now kept at the MIMS hospital in Kozhikode.
The Boeing-737 flight from Dubai to Calicut International Airport as part of the ‘Vande Bharat’ mission was carrying 190 passengers and crew, including 10 infants, the civil aviation ministry said in a statement. Out of the 190 people on board, 123 people have been injured and 20 are in serious condition with some people also suffering injuries to their spinal cord.