Burning passenger jet kills 60 after crashing into houses

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The Independent Online

A burning commercial jet ploughed into houses in north-eastern India yesterday as it attempted to land, killing 54 on board and at least six people on the ground.

A burning commercial jet ploughed into houses in north-eastern India yesterday as it attempted to land, killing 54 on board and at least six people on the ground.

One passenger who had been asleep at the time of the disaster near Patna, the capital of Bihar, awoke to find bodies all around him in the flaming wreckage of the 20-year-old Boeing 737.

Another was thrown clear when the Alliance Air jet struck one of two buildings about 500 metres short of the airport. It was due to land at 7.40am on a journey from Calcutta to Lucknow and Delhi.

India's civil aviation authority was quick to say the aircraft had recently passed safety checks and there were no reports from the captain of any problems just before the crash, though one of the surviving passengers spoke of smoke coming from an engine.

Flight CD7412, with 52 passengers and six crew, had left Calcutta at 6.50am. As the pilot approached Patna, he asked air traffic controllers for permission to go round again.

The manoeuvre is standard practice to lose height and the captain reported nothing untoward. At about 7.35am the plane crashed into the government housing estate for railway workers near the airport.

The plane broke up and burst into flames. Soldiers from a nearby army base took control of the chaotic situation, helping the fire brigade to put out the blaze and pulling bodies and survivors from the wreckage.

Five people from a family of seven who lived in one of the houses that was struck were believed to be among those who perished on the ground.

The dead and injured were taken to Patna Medical College. There, some of the passengers recounted their narrow escape. Rohit Ranjan, who was treated for burns, remembered nothing of the crash. "I was sitting by the window. The plane started swaying as we were coming in to land and I saw smoke from the engine. Then I blacked out." Another passenger who did not give his name told a television network: "I was sleeping and when I woke up there was a lot of dead bodies around me. I saw fire all around me."

Bharat Rungta was also dosing, but leapt from the flaming wreck. "Miracles do take place in this world. I thank God for it," he said. "I managed to jump out of the plane."

One survivor told of a violent jolt just before disaster struck. "We thought the plane had hit an air pocket before landing," said P N Bopanna. "The pilot was just unable to control the plane. There was a lot of turbulence. The plane hit something and we were thrown out."

A H Jung, the secretary of India's civil aviation department, said there were no clues to the cause of the disaster. All the safety equipment at the airport was functioning normally and visibility, at 4,000 metres, was more than adequate. The black box flight recorder was recovered from the wreckage last night.

Alliance Air is a subsidiary of the government-owned domestic carrier, Indian Airlines. The low-budget airline uses cast-offs from its parent, whose planes are by far the oldest of any Indian company.

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