The death toll from the Air India Express Boeing 737 crash in Kerala grew to 18 on Saturday.

The Air India Express aircraft operating a repatriation flight from Dubai crashed as the pilots attempted to land at Calicut International Airport near India’s southern city of Kozhikode.

The aircraft, which had 184 passengers and six crew on board, skidded in heavy rain and overshot the runway, plunged down a slope and broke in two.

It was attempting to land for a second time amid heavy monsoon rainfall.

The two pilots were reported to be among the dead and 16 people seriously injured.

The aircraft did not catch fire, allowing rescuers to cut passengers free, but the front half was reported to be “very badly mangled”.

The black box and cockpit voice recorder have been recovered.

The Air India Express flight was bringing home Indians stranded in Dubai due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was India’s worst air passenger accident since 2010 when another Air India Express flight from Dubai overshot the runway at Mangalore and slid down a hill, killing 158 people

Air India Express is a low-cost subsidiary of Indian flag carrier Air India, based in Kerala.

Calicut airport has a ‘table-top’ runway on a hill requiring a precise approach when landing. It is the third-busiest airport in Kerala.

India shut down air travel in late March but resumed domestic flights on May 25. The government announced a limited resumption of international flights on July 17 with the establishment of bilateral ‘air bubbles’ between India and the US, France and Germany.

However, a large number of repatriation flights have been operating. Almost 690,000 Indian nationals had been flown home by mid-July, according to the aviation ministry.

A World Travel & Tourism Council spokesperson said: “The entire WTTC family expresses its heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the passengers, crew and the family and friends of those impacted by the tragic Air India Express events, which was repatriating those stranded abroad during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The global travel and tourism sector stands beside the families and loved ones, the airline, the government of India and all those affected at this difficult time.”