‘Co-Pilot Had Feeble Pulse’: Locals Recount Kerala Plane Crash
Local residents open up on how they set aside the fear of contracting COVID and rushed to rescue the survivors.
For the people of Kondutty municipality, hearing the sound of a plane landing is a regular phenomenon. But on Friday, 7 August, the sound was far from usual. It was 7.39 pm when Suresh Babu heard a faint noise of what seemed like an explosion. A couple of minutes later, he heard a loud noise and rushed along with his family to the terrace to see what had happened.
Having seen a puff of dust in the area, he took his bike and rushed to the entry gate – just 200 metres away.
But the horror of what he set his eyes on once he reached and the pandemonium that followed will be difficult to shake off, said Suresh Babu to The Quint.
The horrific plane crash at the Karipur Airport in Kerala’s Kozhikode left at least 18 persons dead and 16 others critical.
Desperate Cries for Help
Initially, when five to six of them reached the gate, the airport security didn’t allow them inside.
“This is not the time to follow protocol but to save lives, I told the security guard who then let us in.”Suresh Babu
“We saw people had been thrown outside the flight. There were many women and air hostesses lying on the ground with blood oozing out of their mouths,” he said.
That’s when Suresh saw a hand fall out of the cockpit. As the locals walked towards the flight, they felt a mild shock beneath their feet. it was drizzling and many volunteers said that this probably helped prevented the aircraft from going up in flames.
They rushed to tend to the desperate cries of help.
‘The Child Held on to Me Tightly’
Suresh Babu remembers vividly the first person he rescued – a child.
“I will never forget the way she hugged me tightly when I rescued her from behind a seat.”Suresh Babu
That’s when he realised that most of the kids didn’t have their seatbelt on or were sitting on the parents’ laps, thereby ending up getting trapped between the seats.
Parents kept signalling to the volunteers to pull out their kids who were trapped.
The passengers who were seated in the back didn’t have much physical injuries, he noted, but were unable to get out due to a lot of mangled bodies, Suresh said.
‘Co-Pilot Had a Feeble Pulse’
The cockpit looked heavily damaged said the volunteers who found the pilot in command dead.
Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe, the pilot of the Air India Express plane had retired as a Wing Commander on 30 June 2003. During his service with the Indian Air Force, he flew MIG-21 aircraft and even survived a crash in the 90s.
The locals found co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar still breathing. When they asked him to open the door so that they could pull him out, he said he couldn’t feel his hands. Later, when rescue personnel came to the location, they tried breaking the door with a cutter but couldn’t.
Asif, a TDRF volunteer who rushed to the scene within 10 minutes of the crash said, ”We found one of the pilots dead while we could feel a faint pulse of the other one. We tried to rescue him but we knew he was not going to survive.”
Volunteers Rushed Victims in Cars, Lorries
“I didn’t think that I didn’t have any safety gear on. I am glad I could rescue three kids and 5 passengers,” said Asif.
“One man was found with his leg severed, who later died. I picked a child who was found dead and her body was battered. I still remember holding her in my hands.”Suresh Babu
Volunteers told The Quint that initially there were no ambulances at the site so all the victims were rushed to the hospital in their cars and mini lorries.
“This is an incident i will never forget in my life. I can’t process it but I am glad I could help. There were many whose hands and legs were completely broken. As I walked inside the flight, I could just hear ‘Help me! Help me!’ everywhere,” he said.
When he found a woman whose leg was broken, he made a makeshift stretcher with a cover he found on the seat and carried her from the flight.
It started with just five locals, and soon, over 30 persons from the neighbourhood were helping out.
Suresh Babu and his friends are examples of good responsible citizens.
They had left the airport at 10 pm only when they were sure all had been rescued.
As soon as he reached home, he told his family members that he was going to quarantine himself as he could’ve come in contact with a coronavirus-infected person.
At 7 am on Saturday, he along with six of his friends moved to another house and secluded themselves, strictly adhering to the Kerala government’s guidelines.
Health Minister KK Shailaja has appealed to locals, airport staff, volunteers, health workers, police, firefighters, security personnel, ambulance workers, drivers, officials and the media who were at the site to quarantine themselves. Each of them will need to undergo tests for coronavirus.
The area is a hotspot due to the concentration of COVID-19 cases.
When asked about the fear of COVID, he said, “Yes ,there are so many cases around us but at that time we forgot all that. We lost count of how many people we rescued. It was so difficult.”
“None of the locals or the volunteers cared if they would contract the virus and just helped. I am glad I could save a few lives with these hands,” said Asif.
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