Captain Dipak Vasant Sathe, pilot of the Air India Express Vande Bharat Mission flight (AXB1344, B737) died when the aircraft skidded off the runway at Kozhikode International Airport in Kerala on Friday night. As many as 16 people, including Captain Sathe and the co-pilot, have been confirmed dead by authorities. Unconfirmed reports are now coming in suggesting that Captain Sathe turned off the engine right before the crash, saving the lives of his passengers and the cabin crew. Preliminary inputs indicate that the fuselage broke into two after the aircraft overshot the runway during its second attempt to land at the Karipur ‘tabletop’ airport.
Wing Commander Deepak Sathe was a decorated former fighter pilot, an alumnus of the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune. He was an experienced aerial operator. After retiring from the military, he flew Air India planes, before finally shifting to its subsidiary Air India Express. He was also the recipient of a Sword of Honour, one of the most prestigious military awards at the Air Force Academy.
Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (Retd) said that “Captain Deepak V Sathe was from 58th course of National Defence Academy, Pune. He was from Juliet Squadron. Sathe passed out from Air Force Academy with Sword of Honour in June 1981 and was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force.”
Captain Akhilesh Kumar, his co-pilot, had been married last year. The flight was part of India’s “Vande Bharat” repatriation initiative to bring back expatriates from foreign countries amid the coronavirus pandemic. There were 174 passengers, 10 Infants, two pilots and four cabin crew members on board the aircraft.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams as well as the State Response Forces have arrived at the site and are performing rescue operations. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGVA) issued a statement immediately after the incident. The statement reads, “Air India Express IX-1344 Dubai to Calicut, visibility 2000-meter, heavy rain, after landing on Runway 10, continued running to the end of the runway and fell down in the valley and broke down into two pieces.”
Narendra Modi tweeted as, “Pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode. My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover at the earliest. Spoke to Kerala CM vijayan Pinarayi Ji regarding the situation.