Indian police have confirmed that two people who died in the crash of an Air India Express flight from Dubai in May were travelling on false passports. Flight 812 crashed on landing at the southern Indian city of Mangalore on May 22. The plane overshot the runway, plunged into the valley, broke apart and burst into flames.
There were eight survivors but 158 people, including 19 children, lost their lives. Most were expatriate Indians working in the UAE. Soon after the crash, several people in India and at least one man in Dubai came forward to say their passports had been forged. "We started investigating immediately," said Seemant Singh, the commissioner of police for Mangalore, "as soon as there were rumours that there were fake passports on board."
It is unclear whether the findings will affect compensation for the families of the deceased. Sanjay Verma, the consul general, said in May that forgeries may "complicate" the process. Air India officials offered interim compensation packages to several families within a week of the disaster. For each family member who died in the crash, the airline offered one million rupees (Dh78,000). Other insurance payments were to be distributed following the investigation. Mr Singh confirmed the findings of the investigation but said the police "were not involved in the compensation process". "Air India will take care of that," he said. "We have provided them with the details and Air India, I am sure, will be in touch with their legal consultants."
"We have a team of officer in the Air India headquarters at New Delhi who are handling the compensations," he said. Abhay Pathak, the regional manager for Air India in the UAE yesterday declined to comment on whether the forgeries would affect compensation. Less than a week after the incident, Indian officials admitted that some of the passports could have been forged. Shanavas Mammed Koya, a 27-year-old Dubai resident, went to the Indian consulate in Dubai when his passport number and personal details, including his home address were flashed across a television screen. At that time, Mr Koya said he was forced to raise the alarm when friends and relatives began calling.
"It is not a small issue," said Mr Koya at the time of the crash. "I had to lodge the complaint to make my side clear. I still do not know how this will affect me and my family." Having matched all but 13 other passports to the travellers, Mr Singh said the investigation was closed. He cited the unavailability of sufficient details regarding the deceased. At least 12 people remained unidentified as they were charred beyond recognition and were buried in Mangalore.
"We could not trace them yet," Mr Singh said of the passports. "But they are believed to be genuine." However, UAE officials downplayed this theory. The investigation identified one of the men travelling on a false passport as Abdul Samad, from the district of Kannur in Kerala. He died in the crash. The genuine holder of the passport he used is Shanavas Vellarathangal, who lives in the Kozhikode district in Kerala.
The second man, Mohammed Ashfaq, who also died in the crash, travelled on a passport belonging to Gonzales Marion Ignatius, who lives in Mumbai. After meetings with the original passport holders, it was confirmed that neither had ever travelled out of India, said officials. The families of the two men have received interim compensation from the airline. It remains unclear whether they will be eligible to receive anything more.
Details of the investigation have been sent to the passport offices in Mumbai and Kerala where the forgeries are believed to have originated. The results of the investigation were presented to a court in Mangalore on Thursday, during the last day of a public hearing following a government-appointed inquiry. Transcripts from the plane's "black box" or digital flight recorder are expected by early September. The findings will be presented at a public hearing in Delhi.