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Wreckage of Air India Express flight at Kozhikode International Airport in Karipur on Saturday. 18 people including two pilots lost their lives when the Dubai-Kozhikode Air India flight (IX-1344) crash landed at Kozhikode International Airport on Friday night. (ANI Photo) Image Credit: ANI

Dubai: Even as the ill-fated Flight IX1344 from Dubai to Kozhikode skidded off the runway and broke into two at Karipur Airport last Friday, a young grocer staying close-by, who watched the horrifying accident, was the first person to reach the site. He personally rescued six people, including a two-year old girl.

On August 7, a Boeing 737 of Air India Express from Dubai, crashed upon landing at Karipur Airport in Kozhikode. The aircraft skidded off the runway, fell into a 35-foot deep valley and snapped into two at the end of the runway, causing several casualties. Both the pilots were killed, along with 16 passengers, while several were injured critically. The flight operating as part of the Vande Bharat Mission was carrying 190 people, including the crew members. Many of those injured are currently being treated at four different hospitals in Kozhikode.

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Rushing out of home

Recounting the horrifying story over the phone from Karipur, Junaid Mukkood, 35, told Gulf News: “My home is 20 metres away from the outer wall of the airport. On Friday night, between 7.30pm and 7.45pm (local time), I heard an explosive sounds one after another. Immediately, I rushed out and I saw a plane skidding from the runway and falling down the slope. I ran in the rain. At that moment, there was no thought of putting on masks or gloves as I was not even thinking about COVID-19, but about helping those people trapped inside the aircraft. I was at the accident site in less than five minutes!”

I wish I could have rescued more. With the help of my neighbours, we were able to take a lot of people to hospitals.

- Junaid Mukkood

Pilots in cockpit

Mukkood then alerted his neighbours, who came rushing in their vehicles to join he rescue act. He continued: “I stopped all the vehicles passing by the area and asked them to turn off their engines to avoid a fire. When I got back to the accident site, I saw the plane split into two. The cockpit had crashed into the airport perimeter wall and collapsed. Both the pilots were still trapped inside the cockpit.

“There was a gate leading to the runway that was locked for security reasons. I asked the security officer to open the gate. He took a while to open it perhaps because of security reasons.”

As he went closer to the heavily damaged aircraft, Mukkood said he could hear a lot of cries coming from inside.

“I wanted to run and help, but even after opening the gate, the security didn’t allow us to go near the flight. Then an ambulance came with a driver and another person, along with a five-member fire rescue team. We realised that this minimal man-power would certainly not be enough to carry out an effective rescue operation. So we asked if we could lend a helping hand. They agreed and we joined in the operation. As the plane was broken into two, most of the passengers were thrown out of the aircraft and had suffered serious injuries.

190 people and not enough ambulances

It was a challenging scenario, but Mukkood was not daunted. “The plane looked like as if it had gone upside down, especially the cockpit. Luggage and other belongings were strewn all over the place. I ran inside the aircraft and started helping people take off their seat belts and get out,” he said.

While he was running in and out, Mukkood’s eyes fell upon a little girl who was seriously injured and was crying next to her unconscious parents. “First I took a baby with serious injuries. I carried the baby to the ambulance and also five others. All were injured badly. Later I was told that the girl’s name was Isa Fathima who was in critical condition at the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital. Her mother too was under treatment at the same hospital, while the father, Sharafu Pilassery, had breathed his last at the Baby Memorial Hospital.”

Mukkood further said: “My friends and neighbours came rushing to the spot in their own vehicles as there weren’t enough ambulances. Almost 75 per cent of the passengers were taken to hospital in private vehicles. Later, the local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) came and set up a control room to coordinate the rescue operation.”

“It looked like an impossible job as the ambulances that arrived were only a few and there were 190 people who needed to be rescued. I rescued six people, including an infant. My friends too were trying to get the maximum number of people out. It was a huge challenge and we couldn’t help everyone. But all of us just threw ourselves into the job on hand.”

‘I wish I could have rescued more’

Mukkood said he would never want to witness another such tragedy, but if at all something similar happened again, he would do no less.

“I wish I could have rescued more. With the help of my neighbours, we were able to take a lot of people to hospitals.”

Mukkood has been placed under quarantine for 14 days, along with eight others from his neighbourhood who were involved in the rescue operation.