All 34 people aboard a government-run Indian airliner were killed Wednesday after the plane hit the side of a hill in eastern India during a severe rainstorm, officials said. The crash of the 30-year-old Fokker Friendship propeller plane came about an hour after the crash of an Indian Airlines Boeing 737 in western India that killed 130 people.
The Fokker, leased by Indian Airlines to Vayudoot, a small domestic carrier, crashed into a 1,400-foot hill near Guwahati airport, about 960 miles east of New Delhi. Carrying 31 passengers and three crew members, it was nearing the end of a flight from Silchar, about 112 miles to the southeast.
The Guwahati control tower lost contact with the plane two minutes before the 8:55 a.m. crash, shortly after the pilot reported zero visibility, said C. Das, the top civil administrator for Guwahati district.
Meanwhile, Federal Aviation Minister Shiv Raj Patil said the death toll in the Boeing 737 crash was the worst in Indian Airlines’ 26-year history. It was the airline’s 16th major accident.
Indian Airlines Flight 131 was flying from Bombay with 129 passengers and six crew members when it crashed at 7:40 a.m. on its final approach to Ahmadabad airport, about 500 miles southwest of New Delhi.
The jetliner, attempting to land in heavy fog, slammed into a tree, hit a power line, crashed and burst into flames in a rice paddy less than 3 miles short of the runway.
All but five of the 135 people aboard were killed, and three of the survivors were reported in serious condition with burns and broken bones.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but one airline official said the airline suspects a technical malfunction complicated by bad weather.
Patil said he did not rule out sabotage and ordered an investigation.
A recording between the pilot and the Ahmadabad control tower gave no indication of trouble. Rescue workers recovered the flight data and cockpit voice recorders.
Press Trust of India news agency quoted survivor Vindo Tripathy as saying he ran from the plane after it hit the ground.
“I can, even at the age of 57, run like a hare,” Tripathy said. “Death and misery were everywhere.”
Tripathy suffered severe burns and broke both legs.
The passenger manifest said the victims included two Japanese, three Germans and an industrialist from Bahrain. The United News of India news agency said at least 11 foreigners were aboard but did not identify the other five.