The 51-year-old Mayankutty K.P. is one of the seven lucky survivors from the Air India Express plane crash in Mangalore three years ago, on May 23, 2010.
Of course he was lucky to have escaped largely unhurt from the crash that killed 159 passengers and crew on board.
But also feels unhappy, because like many of the next-of-kin of the dead victims of the Mangalore plane crash, he has had to engage in a protracted legal battle to claim due compensation for the crash.
Speaking to Emirates 24|7, Mayankutty, who now works for a real estate company in Umm al Quwain, at half the salary that he used to earn before the tragedy, said he has filed a case in the Kochi High Court with another plane crash survivor, Krishnan Koolikunnu, for claiming due compensation in tune with international civil aviation rules.
He said Krishnan, his co-passenger on that fateful flight, is now unemployed and is searching for a job in Qatar, where he is on a visit visa.
“I am thankful to God that I could escape from the blazing plane and was saved by a fraction of a minute. I was sitting on seat 22F by the window,” he reminisces.
Mayankutty hails from Kannur, Kerala. Most of the air crash victims hailed from Mangalore, Malabar region of Kerala. He travelled to the Mangalore airport, which is almost the same distance as Calicut Airport from his home town.
“All of a sudden there were sudden violent jolts to the plane, and it felt as if the aircraft had hit something. I could see from the window that the front of the plane was on fire, and all I could hear was screaming and crying of my co-passengers, especially children seeking help,” Mayankutty recalls the dreaded event.
“They were shouting in different languages,” he says. “Their cries for help still wake me up at night and I think this will haunt me till my death,” he says.
“I was shocked and did not know what to do because the lights had gone off inside the aircraft. Suddenly, I could see light from a small crack in the middle of the aircraft. After unfastening my seat belt, I rushed to the area and with full force jumped through the small gap,” he says.
“There were many families on the aircraft because it was summer vacation time, and what I could hear clearly were the cries of children calling their parents for help. I thought my death was near.”
Of the 166 people on board the Air India Express Flight IX-812 (Dubai to Mangalore) that crashed in Mangalore on the morning of May 23, 2010, the only survivors were Ummer Farooq Mohammed (26), Joel Pratap D’Souza (24), Mayankutty, Krishnan Koolikkunnu, Pradeep G.K., Mohammed Usman of Hampanakatta and Puttur Ismail Abdulla (35).
After jumping from the aircraft, Mayankutty, then 48 years old, landed in a forest and sustained head injuries, but he ran for life through the thick forest and reached a railway track.
“After I jumped from the plane, the entire plane was on fire and all the people still inside died. I still don’t know how I escaped. As the third anniversary of the tragedy approaches, I keep praying for those who died in the plane crash.”
Mayankutty was rushed to a nearby hospital, and he had only his passport and mobile phone with him. The checked-in luggage, handbag and everything in the plane went up in flames. “It was a very special journey for me because we were planning to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I had bought a special gold ring and necklace as gift for my wife Fathu. I kept the necklace and ring in the suitcase because I wanted to show her immediately after reaching home,” he said. “Even though I lost the gold ornaments, I have presented myself alive as her wedding silver jubilee gift.”
He claims that while some relatives of the crash victims got compensation of up to Rs7,500,000 (approximately Dh515,000), others are still fighting for due compensation. Mayankutty says he received Rs500,000 (approximately Dh34,000).
“I was discharged after undergoing treatment at the Mangalore hospital for four days. I spent five months in India, and lost my job as the Public Relations Officer of Emirates Shipping Company. After six months, I came back in search of a new job and joined a real estate company in Umm al Quwain at half the salary I used to get earlier,” he says.
Krishnan, another passenger who survived the crash, was working as a foreman in a construction company here. “He too lost his job and has been jobless for some time now. He is still searching for a decent job in Doha (Qatar), where he is on visit visa. Many people, ministers, Indian businessmen and companies promised jobs for plane crash survivors and the relatives of the victims. As far as I know, nobody got any job. These were all false promises,” Mayankutty says.
A case has been filed in the Kochi High Court jointly by Mayankutty and Krishnan. After working for a decade in the UAE and earlier in Saudi Arabia, Mayankutty feels that he has to continue working till his elder son, Munavar Mayankutty, currently an MBA student in India, get a decent job.
“I did not want to come back to the Gulf. I did not get a decent compensation from the insurance company. We are still fighting the case in the court,” he said, adding that he is in touch with Krishnan.
Mayankutty, like other survivors, is optimistic that he will get due compensation “On the occasion of the third anniversary of the Mangalore plane crash, I pray for all the victims, including 19 children. I am fortunate to have survived the tragedy,” he says.
“It is unfortunate that we have to fight a case in the court to get compensation. Of course, Rs500,000 is not the right amount of compensation. Some people got Rs7.5 million,” he said.