PATNA, India -- A jet smashed into two homes just over a mile from its destination Monday, killing nearly 60 people on board and on the ground and leaving weeping relatives digging through flaming wreckage in search of survivors.
The Alliance Air plane crashed while making a second attempt to land Monday morning at an airport in Patna, an eastern Indian city. Several witnesses said the Boeing 737-200 was on fire before it came down, though a national aviation official denied that report.
What was left of the plane came to rest against a brick house, smashing the house's ceiling and wall. Another house next door had bricks missing from the front.
Relatives, police and airport workers rushed to the wreckage, screaming and crying as they tried to find survivors. They used shovels, bare hands and homemade implements to dig through debris and pull people from the damaged houses. Some put together makeshift hose extensions to pour water onto the smoldering airplane.
Hours after the 7:30 a.m. crash, it was unclear how many people had died.
According to a list posted at Patna's closed airport, eight people died on the ground and 49 aboard the plane. The list said there were 56 people on the flight.
However, state-owned Indian Airlines, the parent company of Alliance Air, and A.H. Jung, secretary of the Civil Aviation Ministry, said the plane was carrying 58 people, including six crew, when it left Calcutta at 6:50 a.m. They gave no death toll.
Within hours, the bodies of 39 people, most burned beyond recognition, had been removed from the wreckage. Eleven survivors were taken to the hospital -- seven of them from on board the flight and four from the housing complex, hospital officials said.
Jung told reporters in New Delhi that the pilot, Capt. Sohan Pal, had requested to go around a second time before attempting a landing -- something he said was not unusual. But Pal may have been flying too low as he made his second approach, Jung said.
''There was nothing wrong with the plane's systems. The pilot reported no problems during the flight,'' he said. He said the plane was in ''perfect condition'' and had received all its normal checks.
At least three witnesses said the plane was smoking or in flames before it smashed into the Gardanibagh housing complex for government employees.
''I saw the aircraft wrapped in smoke, wobbling in the sky at a low altitude for a few seconds before its left wing was torn off after grazing a neem tree,'' the United News of India quoted witness Ullas Mandal as saying.
Jung denied those reports.
The plane was en route to New Delhi, with scheduled stops at Patna and Lucknow. The majority on board had booked their flights to Patna, a city of 1.5 million and the capital of India's poorest state, Bihar, airline officials in Calcutta said.
The plane was delivered in June 1980 and had recorded 42,000 flight hours, Boeing spokesman Gary Lesser in Seattle told The Associated Press. Jung said Capt. Pal had 4,300 flying hours.
India has a poor record of air safety because of outdated equipment.
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