UPDATE 9-Airliner crashes in south India, 158 dead

* 158 people killed in crash close to airport

* Flight from Dubai was landing, skidded in rain

* Plane snapped in half, survivor says

(Recasts lead)

By Harish Nayak

MANGALORE, India, May 22 (BestGrowthStock) – An Air India Express
airliner crashed and burst into flames outside an airport in
southern India on Saturday, killing 158 people, many thought to
be Indian migrant workers returning home from Dubai.

The Boeing 737-800 appeared to skid off the table-top runway
in rain at Mangalore airport in Karnataka state and plunged into
forest below, Air India director Anup Srivastava said.

Eight people survived from among 166 passngers and crew on
on board, he said.

At least 146 bodies had been recovered, Civil Aviation
ministry official M. Nambiar said.

“We had no hope to survive, but we survived,” Pradeep, an
Indian technician working in Dubai, told local television.

“The plane broke into two and we jumped off the plane. As
soon as the plane landed, within seconds this happened.”

Local television showed a fireman carrying what seemed to be
the remains of a child from the smoking wreckage. Charred bodies
lay in the forested terrain.

All the passengers were Indian nationals, an Air India
official said. Many were likely to be Indian migrant workers in
Dubai, the rich Gulf state which employees thousands of men and
women for poorer Asian countries, often to fill lowly jobs.

The pilot was Serbian and said to be very experienced.

Air India Express is the budget arm of the loss-ridden
state-run carrier Air India, which has been fending off growing
competition from private airlines.

The flight’s black box has been recovered, the United Arab
Emirates state news agency WAM said. Air India official Nambiar
said the search for the flight data recorder was still going on.

The crash appeared to be an accident, Indian officials said.
One TV report said the plane hit a radar pole on landing.

“There was no distress indication from the pilot. That means
between the pilot and the airport communication there was no
indication of any problem,” V.P. Agarwal, director of Airports
Authority of India, told local television.

Indian officials said the plane crashed around 6 a.m. (0030
GMT). TV images showed it struck a forested area, and flames
blazed from the wreckage as rescue workers fought to bring the
fire under control.

“While landing at the airport, the plane deviated and hit
something,” said Krishna, another survivor. “It caught fire and
we fell out. We looked up and saw some opening and came out
through that route.”

BOOM INDUSTRY

India has seen a boom in private carriers due to growing
demand from India’s middle class. It was the first big crash in
more than a decade but a series of near misses at airports,
including Delhi and Mumbai, have caused concern India’s creaking
infrastructure was failing to keep pace with an economic boom.

Indian Law Minister Veerappa Moily told CNN-IBN TV that he
had opened a new runway at Mangalore airport just 10 days ago.
The ill-fated Air India airliner was two years old.

Boeing said in a statement it was sending a team to provide
technical assistance to the crash investigation.

The last major crash in India was in July 2000 when an
Alliance Air Boeing 737-200 crashed into a residential area
during a second landing attempt in the eastern city of Patna,
killing at least 50 people.

With growing competition from private carriers, the Indian
government agreed to inject $1.1 billion into Air India if the
ailing state-run carrier came up with the same amount in cost
cuts and extra revenue.

The airline lost $875 million in the fiscal year ended March
2009.

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(Additional reporting by the New Delhi bureau, Surojit Gupta
and Aniruddha Basu in Mumbai, Habib Beary in Bangalore, Tim
Hepher in Paris and Erika Solomon and Cynthia Johnston in Dubai;
Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

UPDATE 9-Airliner crashes in south India, 158 dead