When the mortal remains of first officer Akhilesh Kumar, the co-pilot of the Air India Express flight that crashed in Kozhikode on Friday, arrived at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on Sunday morning, at least 300 pilots from various airlines, other staff and airport employees were in attendance to pay their last respects to the pilot.
Kumar, 32, was co-piloting flight IX-1344 from Dubai to Calicut with 190 people onboard when it overshot the runway at Karipur airport while landing and fell into a 35 feet deep valley. Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe, 58, was the pilot in command of the Boeing737 aircraft that broke into two after crashing, claiming the lives of both the pilots and 16 passengers.
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“His body was flown in by an IndiGo flight. It arrived at the Delhi airport at around 2.30 am and was handed over to his colleagues from Air India Express. As many as 250-300 people, mostly pilots from different airlines, all dressed in their uniforms, along with other airline staff and employees from the airport had gathered to pay their last respects to the pilot,” said a pilot who was present in the gathering.
The pilot, who requested anonymity, said it was “very moving to see the camaraderie between the pilots from across the airlines to have gathered voluntarily to bid adieu to their fellow aviator one last time.”
During the gathering that lasted for about an hour on the tarmac of Terminal 2 in Delhi airport, while fellow pilots and others paid their respects to the pilot’s mortal remains, some of his batchmates also said a few words about him.
“He was one of us. It was a very emotional moment. Every one was standing in silence with their heads down and watery eyes. It was not easy to see him depart forever. Captain Sathe and Kumar will always be remembered,” said another officer, who was a part of the gathering.
Kumar’s brother Bhuvnesh and brother-in-law Sanjeev Sharma were also present; they travelled to the capital from their hometown, Mathura, to receive his body.
Air India Express also said on Sunday that the mortal remains of Kumar were handed over to his family. “His remains were taken to Mathura through surface transport from Delhi with due honours. The mortal remains were duly cremated with attendance from all family members and as well as with the officials from Air India and Air India Express..,” the airline said.
Barring the pregnant wife of the co-pilot, other family members were informed about his death on Friday night. The wife came to know of his death only later.
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As Captain Sathe’s wife, his younger son, sister and brother-in-law reached the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport around 3pm with his mortal remains, at least 100 pilots, cabin crew, management and other members of Air India and Air India Express gathered at gate 5, Air India’s triangular plot as a mark of respect.
“We are not able to sleep since Friday night,” said an AI pilot, requesting anonymity. “I consider myself to be privileged that I got to work with Captain Sathe, who was extremely good with his decision-making.”
Another senior Air India pilot said, “Captain Sathe and I have been together since NDA and he always gave his best in his work… the person with great precision.”