Kerala’s worst air crash

The crash of the Air-India Express Boeing 737 at Kozhikode on 07/08/2020 resulted in the loss of at least 21 lives.

It appears to have been the worst aviation accident in Kerala (counting both civil and military aircraft). The previous worst accident was near Kochi airport in 1998, which resulted in the loss of 9 lives including 3 on the ground:

One military crash had a slightly higher death toll of 10 :

There have been other accidents which occurred outside Kerala but had a large number of casualties from that state. Offhand one can think of Mangaluru 2010 and Mumbai 1978 which must have had at least half of the passengers from Kerala:

When Sardar Patel walked out from a plane crash (Revised)

A little known fact about Sardar Patel: he had a little adventure when his plane force-landed near Shahpura about 65 km north of Jaipur on March 29, 1949 where he was going to attend the inauguration of the new state of Rajasthan. He and the other occupants of the  aircraft were unhurt, but his whereabouts were not known for a few hours until he reappeared in Jaipur. The other passengers included his daughter Maniben and the Maharaja of Patiala.

Today Shahpura is a small and bustling town on the Delhi-Jaipur highway.

Here is a link to the Indian Express of March 31, 1949. It can be magnified to suit the reader’s convenience:

The Indian Express – Google News Archive Search

It is not clear from these reports whether it was an aircraft of the Air Force or some other government agency, and it is wrongly mentioned to be a Dove (see the link below):

This link from veteran aviation writer PVS Jagan:

tells us that it was an RIAF Devon piloted by Flt Lt KG Bhimrao. Although the aircraft was written off, no one was injured.

The confusion arose because the de Havilland Dove and Devon were essentially the same aircraft, although the military version was called the Devon. Some information and pictures here:

The biographical film “Sardar” (1993) with Paresh Rawal in the title role briefly shows this incident near the close of the film, though one would not expect the technical details to be accurate in a popular film like this. (For instance, the crashed aircraft vaguely looks like a Constellation).

The Sardar’s  colleague Jagjivan Ram had not been so fortunate. He was seriously injured in a BOAC airliner’s crash in Iran shortly before Independence in which several people were killed. So he was the only cabinet minister who was unable to attend the Independence celebrations on August 15, 1947. A brief account of the crash is here (though it does not mention his name):

There are, of course, several prominent Indians in politics who have been killed in aviation accidents, ranging from senior ministers such as Mohan Kumaramangalam and Madhavrao Scindia to other powerful persons such as Sanjay Gandhi and Dhirendra Brahmachari.

Also see:

Footnote: The Maharaja of Patiala was one of the passengers on the Sardar’s aircraft. Earlier, as Yuvraj of Patiala, he had played one Test match for India in 1933-34 scoring a fifty. He would have played more Tests for India if he was not actively involved in politics. His son Captain Amarinder Singh, continues to be an important force in Punjab’s politics.

Past air crashes linked to pilot’s actions

Much is being said about the crash of Germanwings’ flight 4U9525, including the fact that the co-pilot was somehow responsible for this. It is not always possible to exactly identify the cause in accidents of this sort, but there is fairly strong evidence in several instances which have not been highlighted in the press so far. This list appears to be more exhaustive:

This seems to draw mainly from the site:  One can also see the Wikipedia articles for more details of the respective incidents.

There is even one from India which did not get much publicity as it was not a commercial flight:

And of course, something of this sort might have happened in the case of MH 370 although there are several other theories which can explain its disappearance.

Documentaries on Indian aviation accidents

If you are reading this, you would be aware of the long-running series “Air Crash Investigation” (also known as “Mayday”). Many episodes have made their way to Youtube. Indian aviation accidents have been given due coverage there. The 1996 mid-air collision is covered here: Its content does seem to accurately reflect the causes of the crash.  It is often said that the poor knowledge of English of the Kazakh crew was the main reason for the crash, though this episode points out that the general unprofessional attitude of the crew was of more significance.

Then there is the Air-India sabotage of 1985. This had wide ramifications outside India as the sabotage was committed by people of Indian origin living in Canada-and most of the victims were also of the same category. ACI has covered it here: This is again a typical ACI documentary which describes how the investigation proceeded but does not say much about the conspiracy. For that we have to go to a documentary by the well known Canadian director Stella Gunnarson.

This was released in 2008 and does contain a good deal of information about the conspiracy and the people behind it. It also features interviews with relatives of the victims. Sadly, many of the perpetrators were not punished though at least one died under mysterious circumstances.The film’s website is worth a look before you watch it: This documentary has been uploaded by several places on Youtube, such as this: It does tell you everything you need to know about the crash and events surrounding it. There are several books about this disaster which I will cover later. Other Indian disasters have not rated a book on their own, except one on another long-forgotten sabotage incident in 1955 which led to several fatalities.

There is also a short National Geographic documentary on air traffic control in India: Essentially this is a PR job to show how efficient Indian ATCs are, but it is worth watching-particularly as inadequacies in ATC regulations and facilities at Delhi were among the main contributory factors in the 1996 mid-air collision. If you study that accident in detail, you will wonder how there were not many more disasters in that area. Probably the Indian controllers were good at their job, but cockpit crews must have been pretty careful around Delhi. Have pity on the crew of the Saudia plane, as they did not do anything wrong.