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The BBC's Jill McGiverig in Delhi
"Grieving relatives gathered at Delhi airport"
 real 28k

Aviation secretary AH Jung
"No compromise on safety"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Indian crash inquiry begins
A victims' relative in Patna
Distraught relatives have had to identify bodies
Aviation experts have begun preliminary investigations into the cause of Monday's crash of an Indian airliner in the eastern city of Patna.

The Alliance Air Boeing 737 crashed into a residential complex near Patna airport, killing 51 people on board and several people on the ground.

There were seven survivors.

On Tuesday, rescue workers recovered another body from the crash site. Special planes are being used to carry the bodies of the victims home.

Crash theories

It is still not clear why the plane came down as it made its approach into Patna airport.

Various suggestions have been made.

  • Some experts say the plane may have been pushed into the ground because of a sudden gust of wind, prompting the pilot to lose control
  • Eyewitnesses on the ground said that one of the jet's engines was on fire
  • A senior aviation official, AH Jung, said the pilot may have been flying too low

But the possibility of pilot error has been dismissed by the body representing India's commercial pilots.

"Captain MS Sohanpal and Captain AS Bagga were both professionally qualified pilots with [an] unblemished track record and it is because of their professional competence that seven passengers survived the fatal accident," the Indian Commercial Pilots Association said.

A judicial investigation has been ordered and a spokesman for Boeing in Seattle, USA, said the company had sent an investigator to Patna at the request of the Indian Government.

Engineers are also due to examine two black boxes - the data and cockpit recorders, to find out what went wrong.

Poor safety

The accident has drawn widespread criticism over India's poor air safety standards.

Aircraft wreckage
The plane crashed into a residential area
Alliance Air, which was created as a subsidiary of the government-owned Indian Airlines in 1996, operates aircraft which are more than 20 years old.

"It must be questioned whether a 20-year-old aircraft was airworthy in the first place, given our poor maintenance standards," the Times of India newspaper said.

"When people's safety is involved, the government has to take a decision. Old aircraft must be replaced," said Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee.

Soon after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav said the government would speed up the process of replacing old aircraft.

"We will expedite the process of buying new aircraft for Alliance Air," Mr Yadav was quoted as saying by Reuters.

But he said there was no question of grounding the airline's fleet of aircraft.

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See also:

17 Jul 00 | South Asia
India's poor air safety record
18 Jul 00 | South Asia
Aircrash 'a tragedy waiting to happen'
17 Jul 00 | South Asia
In Pictures: Patna plane crash
17 Jul 00 | South Asia
Indian air crash: black boxes found
07 Mar 99 | South Asia
Delhi plane crash kills 23
07 Mar 99 | South Asia
Cargo plane explodes in fireball
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