The ill-fated Air India Express flight from Dubai which crashlanded at Calicut airport on Friday was being steered by Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe, one of the most decorated pilots with the national carrier. His co-pilot was Akhilesh Kumar who had joined Air India in 2017.
An alumnus of National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune, 60-year-old Capt Sathe was from 58th course of NDA and was from the Juliet Squadron. He passed out from the Air Force Academy with Sword of Honour in June 1981 and was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force. He had served IAF as a Wing Commander and was a part of its flight testing wing.
A resident of Mumbai, Capt Sathe was an excellent squash player. He had flown Airbus 310 for Air India before moving to Air India Express to fly Boeing 737. He was not new to landing on tabletop runway at Calicut and had landed there safely many time.
As per records, he attempted to land the Air India Express flight multiple times and due to heavy rains, he steered the aircraft around the airport twice before managing to touch down, but the aircraft skidded off the runway due to hydroplaning which happens when a layer of water forms on the surface, reducing friction with the brakes of a vehicle. The aircraft then nosedived into a valley 35 feet below and split into two.
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The flight was being operated as a part of the Vande Bharat mission programme of the Government of India to bring back stranded Indians who got stuck due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The flight, IX-1344, had 190 people on board, including 10 children and six crew members. Among the 18 dead was First Officer 32-year-old Akhilesh Kumar, who got married only last year. His wife is expecting their first child soon.
“He was a great son and always first one to help others in need. His teachers still appreciate him,” Capt Sathe’s mother Neela Sathe said.