Flight radar suggested the plane may have circled the airport before trying to land. Survivors told local news media that the aircraft bounced up and down many times before landing.
The runway abuts the edge of a valley, where the plane ended up.
“The valley is about 50 feet deep and it’s no surprise that the plane, after skidding, broke in two,” Mr. Tharoor said
Every year, a large number of flights to Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage use the Kozhikode airport, which supports a considerable number of international flights, particularly to the Gulf countries. This year, though, Saudi Arabia has strictly limited attendance to the hajj because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The airport has more international flights than domestic. It has a long runway,” Mr. Tharoor said.
In 2010, a similar but much more tragic accident happened at another hilltop airport just 150 miles up Kerala’s coast, in Mangalore. An Air India Express flight from Dubai carrying 166 people skidded off the runway, tumbled into a valley and burst into flames. The plane in that crash was also a Boeing 737, and 158 people died.
Like many countries, India has severely cut back on international air operations during the pandemic. But, at the same time, it has initiated an enormous rescue operation to bring home stranded Indians using its national carrier, Air India, its naval ships and countless clerks, health workers, police officers, sailors and diplomats. (Air India Express is a subsidiary of Air India.)
More Indians have been stranded in Gulf countries than in any other region of the world and the Indian embassies organizing the flights have given priority to citizens with medical emergencies, pregnant women, students and people who have lost their jobs.
Mr. Tharoor said that many Indians on the flight Friday night had been anxious to come home.
“And now for this to happen?” he said. “It’s obviously shaken every soul in Kerala to the core.”
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.