Mangalore Crash : Media, Myths and Mysteries

Jul 26, 2010

What did we all learn from the tragic aircrash that shook our entire region recently? Answer is not at all complex. Most of us enhanced our English vocabulary by one more word, 'overshoot'. After the AI plane overshot, most of the things that were shown and spoken about this tragedy too overshot commoner’s knowledge.  The second and very important thing is that for the first time we came to know that there is some 'Table-top' business in Mangalore too. We all were so much accustomed to 'under-the-table’ business that this 'table-top' business in our own backyard had never been heard of.

And whom should we be grateful for letting us know these things? No guess work here. Once again media has emerged the winner without any close contender. While the families, near and dear ones along with the whole coastal belt had plunged in shock and deep sorrow, it was media who managed to hog the limelight. For most of the Gen-X mediamen, this was perhaps the first major aircrash as reported in the last decade. So all and sundry turned in to aviation experts overnight in a bid to present the 'most authentic' live report.

With due respect to mediamen and the media fraternity (I share a close bond with it), I feel that a channel, website or a newspaper gains maximum popularity when there is a tragedy, whether it is individual or mass. Most of the time they are like vultures searching for dead bodies. They keep on hovering waiting for 'breaking news' and when they fail to get it, they create one by ‘breaking’ a few families, carriers, reputation and what not. Everything is fair in the media world as long as it contributes towards TRP ratings and brings in some extra viewers and readers.

Blessing in Disguise

While this air crash plunged everyone into great despair, there might have been a few who would have heaved a sigh of relief. First among them would be the UPA government which completed first year of its second successive regime. Media had just begun to conduct postmortem of the UPA administration. But then they got busy conducting postmortem of the air crash. So UPA bach gaya! Secondly it would be our own Muthalik who might have been overjoyed at the turn of events. At least now there was one tragedy in Mangalore in which he had not played any role!

Make Hay when the Sun Shines

Of late, owing to various reasons I have almost shunned myself from getting glued to these news channels. So the only source of updated information has been the internet. However, on the day of the plane crash, I crashed into my drawing room in a zip after my work in order get updated. But I was soon shocked to see that there were more views than news. I went on browsing through almost every news channel that my service provider offers me, but in vain. Every channel was busy airing views emanated from an 'expe(o)rt panel' which was moderated by a news reader who knew everything about aviation, at least on that day! While the real experts from the aviation family are still scratching their heads burning the midnight oil to fathom the actual cause, we have already been told the 'ifs' and 'buts' of this crash by the media who managed to successfully pick a few villains on their own.

Mangalore airport which has been operating for more than 50 years has never been in such a bad light. Except when former chief minister Veerappa Moily's flight Avro could no more carry the political ‘heavyweight' and skidded, never has there been such a scare at Mangalore airport. Though Veerappa Moily survived, Avro was banned from flying to Mangalore. Strange are our leaders and their decisions! The plane carrying the minister was banned from flying to the airport for slipping just once but the survivor is still flying high despite several 'slips' and 'sleeps' during his political career. No one has ever banned him. Had the flight survived and not the passenger, Mangalore airport's runway might have been extended to such an extent that present day flights would have reached Middle East directly just by running and not taking off! Again blame it on our bad luck which is always kharab!

Ooops! I deviated from the topic! These politicians are capable of altering the course of anyone and anything so easily! I was very much impressed by home minister Dr V S Acharya's statement regarding the Mangalore airport after the crash. He strongly defended the airport and the facilities offered reminding everyone that for more than half a decade the runway had been a 'table-top' one and never had it caused any problem. I wanted a few more leaders to come up with these kinds of statements defending Mangalore airport amidst the onslaught of the media. But sadly no one emerged, and that helped the media to depict our airport and AI in bad light.

Tailor-made Reporters

The live reports were just nonsense to say the least. The reporters, with strong competition from their counterparts from other channels, hardly have the time to ascertain facts and report. So they have to often pull out some magic tricks out of their hats to give ‘exclusive’ breaking news. What exclusive can they get by just reporting facts from the spot? If all the channels report as it is, why should we have so many channels? Accordingly they have no option but to assume things. This is the reason why even facts and figures differ from channel to channel.

In between reporting the tragedy all the channels did a bit of homework and managed to pull out a few aviation experts from out of the blue. Every channel had at least 4-5 experts in the panel and for the first time I came to know that there were so many aviation experts in our country. Most of them had never either flown to Mangalore or to any 'table-top' runway. Yet they managed to give verdict that the problem was with the runway. Suddenly entire Mangalore airport and the new runway, which according to reliable aviation sources, is one of the best in the country, was painted villain.  Meanwhile some smart reporter had managed to calculate the length of the runway by then and suddenly the blame shifted to its length.

The present runway which has been in use from 2006 is much longer than the earlier one which measured around 5,500 ft. The verdict was clear on all channels that Mangalore airport's runway is not adequate to accommodate international flights. But then none of these reporters ever bothered to air that a runway of 6,500 ft is more than sufficient for a Boeing 737 (the AI flight that crashed was a Boeing 737). None of them even knew that most of the runways in major Indian airports at Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi were around 7000-7500 just a few years ago. Of course now all these airports have slightly longer runways with the longest one at Delhi measuring around 14000+ ft. However, an obstruction created by a 62-feet idol of Lord Shiv facing its landing approach renders over a kilometre of the runway stretch unusable. Usually the touchdown point begins at 1000 ft inside the runway from its origin point. But owing to the idol of Lord Shiv, the planes touch down at the runway around 4, 700+ feet which leaves only 9,600+ feet for them to land and come to a halt. But this issue has never made headlines of any news channels even after the Mangalore tragedy.

Airport & Carrier Swadeshi – Pilot and Plane Videshi

There was one more theory which too rose up from these news channels. It was regarding the origin of the pilot. They felt (just felt) that since the pilot was a British national, it was difficult for the ATC staff to understand his instructions and vice versa while a few other channels felt that being a 'videshi' he did not have the geographical knowledge of a 'swadeshi' airport! Again it was Boeing, a ‘videshi’ plane run by Air India, a pure ‘Swadeshi’ carrier. Phew! Politics has left such an indelible mark in our day-to-day life that unknowingly we often use their 'item numbers' to prove our theories. If this theory is right then most of the Indian pilots serving the foreign carriers are 'videshis' at least at one end and they too do not have the geographical knowledge of the places they fly. Forget about foreigners, how many of us know the geography of our own nation? Is a pilot from Mangalore familiar with the geography of Patna or Jammu if he is flying there? Regarding the accent, our selection process is so absurd that forget about foreign accent, some staff in Mangalore and other airports hardly understand English. After all it’s not always by merit that they make it there.

The pilot of this particular flight had more than 10,000 hours of flying under his belt of which more than 3,500 hours were flying Boeing 737. He had previously touched down and taken off from Mangalore more than 15 times. His assistant had been a regular figure at Mangalore airport ever since international flights started here. He had made Mangalore his second home and had flown here more than 60 times. This shows that even if they were at fault, it was purely owing to circumstances and not inexperience. We have seen youngsters zipping around on Mangalore roads without any problem (but causing nuisance to others) while some experienced drivers meeting with accidents even when they drive within the economy class of 40-50 Mph. Who is to blame?

Then came another angle. This time it was regarding Air India, our national carrier. Again accepted that AI is not the best in the business but we should not be forgetting that it has nothing to do with Air India. We should be blaming the people who control AI. Over the years we have seen some of the best carriers such as Air France, KLM or even US carriers crashing down resulting in major tragedies. So should we say that even these airlines should be shut down despite being the best in the business?

Compensating Life?

Amidst all this there was this big comedy of announcement of compensation. I personally feel that when tragedies take place, the leaders or anyone should be barred from announcing immediate compensation. First the identity of the victims must be ascertained properly and then the compensation should be announced and disbursed. Otherwise there are chances of some black sheep entering into the scene just to take advantage. Take for example this tragedy. A few bodies could not be identified even after the DNA test. This means some relatives might have performed last rites not of their relatives but of someone else. I do not deny even the chances of some mean creatures entering in as relatives just to seek compensation! When we have persons who can steal ornaments from charred bodies, we surely also have persons who can pose as relatives just to pocket the compensation.

Perhaps we can elaborate a little more on this air tragedy. But the bottom-line is that this calamity has surely put AI and Mangalore airport in hot water. While the life of 158 persons who were killed cannot be measured in currency, the tarnished image of Mangalore airport too cannot be easily repaired.

Mangalore Betrayed !

Agreed that Mangalore airport is geographically situated in a bothersome spot. But I strongly felt that we Mangaloreans miserably failed to defend ourselves when the need for it arose. This perhaps has been the one reason that we have often failed as a community, whether it is in politics, business or in availing facilities. When mediamen from other places, leaders from neighbouring states and experts from all over the country were busy painting Mangalore airport in poor light, we perhaps should have stood strong defending our airport which is one of the pride accomplishments of our coastal belt. Except for Dr Acharya none of the leaders bothered about it. When Mangalore needed us most, we the citizens betrayed her big time! This has actually eased the road for our neighbouring state which has been eyeing another international airport.

In these very columns I read some readers' comments regarding the now-shelved plan of an airport at Padubidri. What assurance have we that the airport at Padubidri will be crash-proof? Accidents don’t take place only on Mangalore’s pot-holed roads but they also take place on super-fast highways of Middle East, Europe or America. So assuming that the tragedy would not have taken place if the Mangalore airport was situated somewhere else is nothing but telling that accidents only take place on Mangalore’s pot-holed roads and not on super-fast highways of Middle East, Europe or America. Is that true? So more than the air crash, a crash in our spirit and loyalty to our motherland was more tragic, at least for me. This is purely an accident and not an incident and accidents can take place any time and with anyone.

We will never perhaps grow as one community owing to this lack of unity. Our neighbours though small in numbers and short on finances, have managed to get more than what they want. Let us not blame only our political leaders for that. The neighbouring state which I am referring to has one of the most unstable of governments. The political confusion there is more than it is here in our state. The resources available to them are much less than what our motherland offers us. Yet they thrive while we keep on cribbing. This is just because those people have grown as one community and they have tremendous unity among them. While they have political fights creating ruckus in the state every other day, they hardly have communal fights. But we Mangaloreans in particular and Kannadigas at large have divisions based on one's religion and faith. I have heard people saying that none from the neighbouring state going to Gulf on visiting visa returns without a job. But among us most who go on visiting visa just complete their visa and plan for the next visit after completing the term.  We all know why it happens only with us!

The Mangalore air tragedy indeed is gruesome and heart-breaking and no one can console those who have lost their near and dear ones. However, what baffled me more was the way we disowned and disassociated ourselves with Mangalore. While there has been a lot talk about rescue operations, people’s proactive nature and victory of humanity over those who are bent upon creating divide among us this accident will also be remembered for our lack of loyalty, love and appreciation for our motherland. Surely across the world there are better cities with sophisticated facilities, super fast highways, magnificent malls etc. But surely there is no city like our Mangalore anywhere, only because she sheltered us when we were still poor.  Most of us when we are tired of running around for work, family, money, and finally think of retiring, think first about our native. When we want solace, peace of mind, want to live healthy or improve deteriorating health, we think not about Gulf, Europe or the US, but about our native. Right from birth till our life’s sojourn comes to an end we go on expecting rewards and sustenance from our native and never bother about giving back anything to her because we know well that Namma Kudla or Amchem Manglur is so good that it has never expected anything from us for all that she has given us.

From archives:

By Gladson D’Almeida, Brahmavar/Qatar
Gladson Almeida, former Sub-editor of, Mangalore is currently working as Media Manager of a leading Intellectual Property Rights' firm of Qatar which has operations across the globe.
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Comment on this article

  • Melwyn, Pernal

    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    Good article dude.. Keep writing...
    All the best..

  • Smitha Mascarenhas, Mangalore/Dubai

    Thu, Jul 29 2010

    Dear Gladson, I have always liked reading your articles and this one is really a "must read". After the AI Crash in Mangalore, I hear lot of people in Dubai telling that they are "SCARED" to travel in AI, lest an accident like the one on May 22 takes place but in reality, no one stops travelling by the same carrier becoz all of them feels that it takes only 3 odd hours for people to reach Mangalore compared to via flights so they have to "hold their dear lives in their hands and leave their fates in the hands of God" and still travel in AI Express. Is this not a grave hypocrisy?.

    I burst out laughing reading a comment on your article comparing Mangalore airport to a bus stand. Why do we have the audacity to compare facilities in India as primitive whereas we can still bear any unfortable situation in the so-called sophisticated airlines run by a foreign country. We even happily face the biased service of these foreign airlines and their staff but take pride in hammering our own desi AI. If Mangalore's "Table top" airport is to be blamed for the unfortunate accident, how do we explain all the aircrashes that have taken place after May 22?

     It is wrong to blame the foreign pilot also because he was not the inexpeienced one but a snap decision at the very moment turned disastrous - it can happen to anyone - one wrong decision and "kaput". With so many people turning "airline expertise gurus" overnight,we can only wait & see how these people can help to stop future accidents.

  • Eulalia D'Souza, Bijai / Mangalore

    Thu, Jul 29 2010

    Dear Gladson, nice article and well said. We the educated lot of this city & around, along with our other viewers always have known that media plays a vital role in.. " making or breaking news ..." While we accept that, it is thier job, we have always felt that news have been blown out of propertion most of the times. This was the only reason, I thought of writing that article which reads as " Let us be realistic and not thrive on speculation ".. May be you should read that because I have tried to defend our airport, out city and also our national career Maharaja - Air India.

  • latheef kodagu , k s a

    Wed, Jul 28 2010

    m lore airport like privete bustand are same very small how landing that small place i have no idea that is the reason kill 100 of pepole that place not good for airport

  • Vincent Edward Fernandes, Kulshekar/Mangalore

    Wed, Jul 28 2010

    Dear Gladson, hats off for an wonderful analysis of the situation. Yes we Mangaloreans when we reach the gulf we forget where we are from and particularly we Chritians, who develop greed for money and loose love towards our homeland and think about Canada, US or Australia. It is not a sin to think about this countries, but at the same time don't forget your maigaon. Also we have to take blame on ourself because we don't want any improvement in Mangalore, for instance for widening roads, or building the runway, nobody want to leave a peice of land or sacrifice it for his future generation. Take for instance our airport the project which was initiated in 1987, just completing on 2nd August 2010.

    So we are not realistic and we want to live for ourself and if we dont change this we will remain where we are. As you mentioned about the unity of our neighours who are on the verge of opening 4th International airport in their state only because they think united and improvement to thier mother land.Also when a child comes into this earth he/she comes with the date of return and whatever the reason (accidents, sickness, murder, suicide)he/she has to go back on that date, and all 158 except those 6 whose time was not come were perished. So it is all god's will and he is the best judge.Let that almighty enlighten the minds of Mangaloreans to be united.

  • Sheba Samuel, Mangalore

    Tue, Jul 27 2010

    Well written article. Creative..

  • Valerian Dalmaida, Mangalore/Abu Dhabi

    Tue, Jul 27 2010

    This is exactly what happens to us - Mangaloreans. We wash our dirty linen in public like this as opposed to our neighbours. This is not in good taste. It is better the writer comes up with positive things than the negative.

  • Melroy, Dubai

    Mon, Jul 26 2010

    Hi Gladson i really appreciate your articles including the comments which you write which are not only with humourous but also with reality.
    But this article i feel started well but down the line skidded the runway in some areas. Well as others also said its always better to have a choice than a chance. Many new informations you have provided are fantastic. Once again you have supported your mother land Mangalore but it clearly shows you have ignored the development of our Mother India. Please note neighbouring state is an Indian state if their airport is safe I dont mind landing there instead an airport which is really dangerous if many think. Well I travel with my family this August to my home town and booked tickets in AI express and destination airport is Mangalore, this is our wish and not an option.

  • ajay , mangalore

    Mon, Jul 26 2010

    God article

    It is true. We are living in the competitive world. All channels want to give breaking news ( so they break the news - some times it turns in to pieces as the pots)
    To have an originality of their own they have ifs and buts theory. It hapens in all the channels. News has turned into Panel discussions. All the headlines are not covered. Similar things happened during the Plane crash

  • jacintha, Mangalore/UK

    Mon, Jul 26 2010

    Mr. Gladson,

    You have expresSed your opinion and views just as many others have on this major tragedy that engulfed our dear Mangalore! While you have pointed out different views and shared your thoughts which I appreciate - that is what this site if for.

    However I disagree with your view that Padubidri airport may not be crashproof! No airport in the world is crashproof and no aircraft that flies is a 100 percent safe either!! There have been accidents where planes have crashed or had emergency landings due to birds hitting engines, pivot tubes being iced up, fuel leaks from the tank, engine malfunctions and many others - but not one where a plane crshed into a cliff because the runway was insufficient!! Of course the pilot was good, the airport is good , the town is wonderful - but the lesson that - the sad loss of 158 lives lost should be to teach us to campaign and support for better infrastructure and better aiport facilities when we have our so called 'Mangalore loving ' natives wanting to fly down to Mangalore for every small reason - let us work towards a safer and better Mangalore - atleast we have escaped the sad fate that those passengers did not on that fateful flight - maybe we can work towards a better cause!!

  • Wilfy, Mangalore/Dubai

    Mon, Jul 26 2010

    Nice article Mr. Gladson. I agree with your views. I am not a aviation specialist, But what if the aircraft skids on the runway while landing? There is no room except the cliff. Even 10000ft long runway won't help in this scenario right? Please write to or comment in this page itself.

  • Why Not?, Udupi

    Mon, Jul 26 2010

    As i had written on the first day of the AI incident in Magalore, i was always wondering, most of the crashes are caused huge flames bcos of fuel injections. I believe that if we prepare such external fuel tanks which could be detached at the time by the pilot if he comes to know that plane is going to crash. I am not expert...just trying to give hint to our engineers or scientist to think about it and why not india be the first one to do so? Please take it possitively.!!!

  • sandeep, mangalore/mumbai

    Mon, Jul 26 2010

    Nice article.
    I also agree with the views expressed by the author. I also remember one of the suvivors of this accident being shown on all TV channels telling that there is problem in the runway,all planes vibrate while landing.. blah blah.. as if is he is an aviation expert.

  • Sophia, Kuwait

    Mon, Jul 26 2010

    Very well written...

  • B. Rebello, mangalore/Abu Dhabi

    Mon, Jul 26 2010

    Good article and analysis.
    However before approving the article for a thesis my comments the author fails to analise and enlighten on the facts of utter failure of the rescue teams and efforts at our half a century old airport.  When the AI express plane which was sighted to be landing went missing down the ravines what the control tower was doing and not starting rescue and firefighting operations.

    Did the ATC think that the pilot has stopped at the end of the runway and sipping his chay or chewing his Paan just like the ATC might have been doing at that early hour because the plane arrived ahead of schedule and took the ATC in the tower by surprise ?

    just because in all the years only one tragedy ( Moily- Avro ) took place without loss of life the ill preparedness of the authorities in case of an accident such as mock drills, safety approach roads when the new runway was built and providing latest fire tenders capable of spraying water or foam from a long distance could have probably saved some more lives as according to eyewitness accounts before the fire started people were alive inside the damaged plane and were shouting for help.

    Instead of justifying the 50 yrs old airport let the politicians and authorities initiate proper safety measures to avoid further accidents.

  • prasanna, krishnan

    Mon, Jul 26 2010

    "What assurance have we that the airport at Padubidri will be crash-proof? ", asks the author. its simple logic. prevention is better than cure. sooner or later the law of averages is bound to catch up. and it took so many years. ofcourse nothing can be done now as they have extended the runway, though in what way will it help needs to be seen.interesting piece though.

  • Anand, Karkala/Dubai

    Sun, Jul 25 2010

    Not exactly the vocabulory but the words used to the airports. We also have the same view and only the difference is you have expressed it in writing. Nice article and literally I was waiting for your arlicle.
    If things are not as you wish, wish them as they are. Very well written.

  • Jennifer R, Mangalore/Dubai

    Sun, Jul 25 2010

    Completey share the same views.One amongst the best articles have read.A "MUST READ".

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