55 killed in Indian jet disaster

NEW DELHI - More than half the 118 passengers and crew on board an Indian Airlines Boeing 737 survived a crash yesterday in which the plane, shortly after take-off from Aurangabad airport in central India, clipped high-voltage wires and smashed into a lorry speeding down a highway, writes Tim McGirk.

Most of the survivors jumped from the wreckage before the plane, which broke into three pieces when it hit the lorry, exploded. One unidentified passenger said told the UNI news agency: 'The plane became a ball of fire; we scrambled out as fast as we could.' When the lorry, laden with cotton, was hit, it burst into flames.

Fifty-five passengers died and another two were missing, according to police, who are searching the smouldering debris strewn along the Beed- Aurangabad highway. Among the dead were eight foreigners, including a Briton.

The Bombay-bound Flight IC491 was on a popular tourist hop from New Delhi through Rajasthan and Maharashtra, when, according to witnesses, the aircraft failed to gain altitude immediately after it took off.

The pilot and crew members were among the survivors, 12 of whom were severely injured.