Survivors of a plane crash that killed 158 people have told today how jumped from the burning plane as it broke up and plunged into a valley.
The Air India plane overshot the runway in Mangalore at the southern Indian city's 'table-top' Bajpe airport, crashing into a gorge and killing all but a few of the 169 passengers on board.
Nearby residents rushed to the scene following the incident at around 6.30am (local time), describing 'shocking' scenes as they pulled charred bodies from the wreckage.
Around six people survived the crash and are currently being treated in nearby hospitals, officials said.
Indian firefighters spray foam on the Air India plane wreckage as they try to extinguish the fire
A rescuer runs up a hill carrying a girl, believed to be a survivor. The foam-covered seven-year-old is taken to waiting medics and rushed to hospital where she's treated for severe burns
Smoke billows into the valley after the Air India plane crashed into a gorge killing all but a few of the 169 passengers on board
It is not believed that any Britons were on board the plane but unconfirmed reports suggest that the pilot was a British citizen of Serbian origin.
The British Foreign Office said it was urgently investigating to confirm that this was the case.
The crash happened during heavy rains that also hampered the rescue effort.
It is believed that cloudy conditions and reduced visibility may have contributed to the incident.
The airport is located on a plateau surrounded by hills, making it difficult for the firefighters to reach the scene.
Its 'table-top' runway ends in a valley. As a result, if a plane overshoots it is likely to result in a major incident, aviation experts have said.
One witness described plumes of smoke coming from the valley after the crash.
A man who survived the Air India plane crash lies on a hospital bed in Mangalore
Parts of the charred plane can be seen sticking up from the gorge
Lucky survivor Krishnan speaks on the phone as he eats lunch at a hospital in Mangalore
Air India confirmed that 160 passengers were on board the flight alongside two pilots and four cabin crew.
Eight people survived the crash and are currently being treated for their injuries.
Survivors said they jumped from the plane as it began to break up.
Pradeep G Kotian, 28, said: 'The flight started fine from Dubai and there was no problem en route. The pilot announced landing and we were all prepared, with our seat-belts on.
'As soon as the plane touched the runway, it started vibrating and before we could realise what was happening, we heard a loud sound and the plane broke into two pieces. Then there was smoke and fire on the plane.'
He added that he could hear the screams and shouts of people around him but said: 'Nobody could do anything.'
'Luckily, I saw the opening where the plane had split into two, and I jumped out of it. I could see three others who had also jumped out from the same opening.'
Smoke rises from the plane as rescuers and onlookers crowd around the wreckage of the Air India Express plane that crashed in Mangalore, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. There are said to be eight survivors and 158 were killed
A police officer co-ordinates rescue work as onlookers gather at the site of the crash
Mohammad Haris, 42, who lives near the airport, was alerted to the crash at about 6.30 this morning (local time).
He said: 'I heard a loud bang early in the morning. Initially I couldn't understand what happened, but then I saw smoke coming out from the valley near the airport.
'Along with a few other neighbours, I rushed to the spot. It was rather difficult to reach the site because of the dense vegetation. We began pulling bodies from the wreckage and one of us informed the local authorities.'
He added: 'I have never seen anything like this before. I am shocked.'
Another local resident known only as Balakrishna, 34, said: 'It took a while to absorb what had happened. After that we did what was needed to be done.'
Rescue workers estimate the efforts could carry on well into the evening, but the chances of finding any more survivors are bleak.
C Basavanna, a regional fire officer, said: 'We arrived here at 7am after receiving an emergency call. Only 30 per cent of the rescue work has been done so far and it may carry on beyond 7pm.'
Indian firefighters and rescue personnel hose down the site while many residents look on
Locals break down in tears as they try to help survivors at the crash site
Rescue workers search for survivors amid the wreckage of the Air India Express jet which was flying in from Dubai
Yogish Bhat, member of legislative assembly, who rushed to the scene as soon as he heard the news, said: 'Many relatives are coming to the spot. But the bodies are so charred, it is impossible to identify them here. So we are sending them to hospitals.'
One of the survivors, known only as Pradeep, told an Indian news channel that the front tyre of the aircraft burst after the plane had landed.
The technician from Dubai, who was returning home to Mangalore, added that he managed to jump from the plane and was helped by villagers who had heard the crash.
The crash is believed to be the worst in India since the November 1996 mid-air collision between a Saudi airliner and a Kazakh cargo plane near New Delhi that killed 349 people.
Air India director Anup Srivastava said in a statement today: 'Air India Express regrets to announce that a B737-800 aircraft operating as flight IX-812 from Dubai to Mangalore was involved in an accident early this morning.
'The accident occurred after the aircraft landed at Mangalore airport and overshot the runway. We are confirming the number of casualties.
'We have opened helplines and are making arrangements for rescue. As per our information, the airport has been shut. We are extending our support to emergency services, relatives and investigation agencies.'
An Air India Express 737-800 similar to the one which crashed today in one of the worst air accidents in India in years
Another survivor, 47-year-old Krishnan K, thanked God for his miraculous escape.
'It happened all of a sudden and I considered myself really lucky to have survived this crash. I thank God for my survival,' he said.
Mayan Kutty, 48, believes today was 'the luckiest day of his life'.
He said: 'I consider myself really lucky. As soon as I jumped out of the plane, I spoke to my wife thinking she might be worried. But she was shocked to hear the news.'
Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is in Afghanistan today, said: 'Our thoughts and condolences are with the victims, their families and all others affected by the tragic plane crash in Mangalore. We wish those who have been injured a full and quick recovery.'