Captain Deepak Sathe, pilot of the Air India Express flight who died along with 17 others after the plane crashed at Kerala's Kozhikode airport, had survived an air crash in the early 1990s when he was in the Air Force and was hospitalised for six months, his cousin said.
Sathe had suffered multiple injuries on his skull in that incident, but due to his strong will power and passion he cleared the test and started flying again, he said.
The Air India Express flight from Dubai with 190 on board overshot the tabletop runway in Kozhikode airport in Kerala on Friday night while landing in heavy rains and fell into a valley 35 feet below and broke into two portions.
Captain Sathe, 58, who was the pilot-in-command and his co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar were among those who died in the incident.
Sathe was a former Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and had served at the force's flight testing establishment.
His cousin, Nilesh Sathe, who is Advisor Finance at the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), said in a Facebook post, 'It's hard to believe that Deepak Sathe, my friend more than my cousin, is no more. He was pilot of Air India Express carrying passengers from Dubai in 'Vande Bharat Mission', which skidded off the runway at Kozhikode International Airport yesterday night.'
'Deepak was an experienced aerial operator with 36 years of flying experience. A passout of NDA, topper in the 58th course and an awardee of 'Sword of Honour', Deepak served Indian Air Force for 21 years before joining as a Commercial Pilot with Air India in 2005. He called me just a week before and was jovial, as always.'
'When I asked him about the 'Vande Bharat' Mission, he was proud of bringing back our countrymen from Arab countries. I asked him, 'Deepak, do you carry empty Aircraft since those countries are not allowing entry of passengers?' He had replied, 'Oh, No. We carry fruits, vegetables, medicines etc to these countries and never the aircraft flies to these countries empty.' That was my last conversation with him.
'He survived in air crash in early nineties when he was in the Air Force. He was hospitalised for 6 months for multiple skull injuries and nobody thought that he would fly again. But his strong will power and love for flying made him clear the test again. It was a miracle,' Nilesh said.
According to him, Captain Sathe is survived by his wife and two sons, both IIT Bombay graduates.
Captain Sathe was a son of Brigadier Vasant Sathe who stays in Nagpur along with his wife. His brother, Captain Vikas, was also an Armyman, who laid his life while serving in Jammu region, his cousin said.
Meanwhile, a neighbour of Capt Sathe remembered him as a jovial and friendly man.
Sathe lived in Nahar Amrit Shakti housing complex in Chandivali in Mumbai with his wife Sushma for nearly 15 years.
"Everyone in the housing society knew Sathe sir and his wife. When he wasn't flying, the couple would go on morning and evening walks," said neighbour Pankaj Nagpal.
Sathe sir had a jovial, friendly personality and he exuded positivity, he said.
"Sathe sir had one or two flights every week. When we heard about the plane crash, we knew it was him," Nagpal said.
Sathe's wife and their younger son, who lives in Bengaluru, have already reached Kerala, Nagpal said, adding that the mortal remains of the deceased pilot may be brought back to the city for the last rites.
Meanwhile, Air India sources said the airline was making arrangements to bring Sathe's elder son, who is based in the United States, back to the country.