At least seven passengers were injured as a Gulf Air plane from Bahrain with 137 passengers veered off the runway as it was landing at the international airport and went into a muddy area, damaging its nose wheel on Monday morning.
One person, who suffered fractures, has been hospitalised while six other passengers with minor injuries were discharged after first aid, airport sources said. As the nose wheel has been damaged, recovery is taking time due to which the runway has been closed for 10 hours, Airport Director A C K Nair said.
"We are trying our best to partially open the runway as early as possible," he said. The Gulf Air plane (GF 270) with six crew deviated from the runway at 3.55 am on Monday morning. Some passengers panicked and jumped from the aircraft through the emergency door even before the ladder was brought to the plane, airport sources said.
Saithmohed, 47, from Palakkad, who suffered some fractures, has been hospitalised. The Director General of Civil Aviation E K Bharat Bhushan has ordered an enquiry into the incident. Flights to Kochi are being diverted to Thiruvananthapuram and Bangalore airports, Nair said.
While an Etihad flight from Kuwait, two Jet airways flights from Sharjah and Muscat have been diverted to Thiruvananthapuram, an Oman-Kochi flight has been sent to Bangalore. Passengers are being brought by road to Kochi from Thiruvananthapuram. The departure schedule of 3 flights of Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar flights, which were at the airport at the time of mishap, has been affected.
Bhushan said the runway has been blocked till 3 pm. A Disabled Aircraft Retrieval Kit is being sent from Mumbai, he said. Bhushan said the reason behind the mishap was not yet known. "There was visibility till 2,000 metres. Only after a preliminary enquiry, the cause of the mishap will be known," he said. Heavy rains and strong winds have been lashing Kochi airport since Sunday night.
Meanwhile, Cochin International Airport Ltd Managing Director, V J Kurien, told reporters that they were hopeful that by Monday midnight the services at the airport would be normalised.
"Our expectation is that within one to one-and-half hours, smaller aircrafts would be able to land at the airport," he said. Kurien said as soon as the airport received information about the landing, the fire engines were ready.
"Our first priority was to make sure that injured passengers are shifted. Perhaps, there was some confusion," Kurien said. "The next priority is to normalise operations as soon as possible, he added. "We are moving steel plates and wooden planks to the spot to lift the aircraft stuck in the mud," he said.
There was no damage to the runway, Kurien said, adding there was heavy rain when the plane was landing which could be the reason for the flight going off the runway. At least 12 International flights have been diverted but no flights have been cancelled, he said. The departure of four flights to various destinations, however, has been delayed, he said.
In the domestic sector, services of three Air India aircrafts has been delayed, he said. Meanwhile, Chennai airport sources said, four flights were cancelled in Chennai owing to the mishap at the Kochi airport. The cancelled flights belonged to Jet Airways, Air India, Kingfisher and Spice Jet, they said.
Kurein said sand and mud might have entered the engine, making it impossible to tow the aircraft to either the taxiway or the isolated bay.
A two-member DGCA team, led by Assistant Director Durai Raj, arrived in Kochi, inspected the aircraft and took evidence from the airlines and airport authorities.
An Air India ferry flight with Rescue Operation Equipment, to lift the nose wheel system and tow away the plane, is expected to reach from Mumbai on Monday afternoon.
CIAL has brought two cranes of 50 and 60 tons capacity to help lift the aircraft. A bigger crane of 100 ton capacity from Cochin Shipyard will support clearing of the damaged aircraft.
Nearly 12 International flights were either diverted or delayed due to the runway closure. In the domestic sector, 15 services were disrupted.
Airport sources said eight international flights were diverted to Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode and Bangalore. While five flights were diverted to the state capital, two were diverted to Kozhikode and one to Bangalore.
Passengers who alighted at Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode airports are being brought to Kochi by road. The Oman airways flight, diverted to Bangalore, subsequently landed at Kochi.