As it began its descent, the flight of Emirates EK 521 from Thiruvananthapuram to Dubai had been as normal as could have been. A few minutes before the final approach, the captain came online to announce that they would be landing at the Dubai International Airport at 12.32 pm and that the weather was fine outside. Nothing seemed amiss in his voice nor in the manner of the cabin crew.
Passenger Joji Abraham Thomas was sitting on the right of the aircraft, and looked out of the window to catch a glimpse of the scene outside. Suddenly, it hit him that the engine was on fire. "I was the first to see the engine catching fire," said the passenger, speaking to newindianexpress.com on the telephone from Dubai.
Joji, the treasurer of the Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce who was flying to Dubai to attend a marriage on Friday, said, "I didn't even have the time to be shocked. Just as I saw fire, the aircraft hit the ground belly first and bounced up. None of the other passengers seemed to have noticed the fire and the crashlanding came out of the blue to them."
The Boeing 777 screeched along the ground for quite some distance and then smoke began seeping into the cabin. "That was when people realised the gravity of the situation," Joji said. "Passengers began screaming and crying and nobody knew what they should do next."
Joji was sitting in the front row and tried to get out of the flight through the captain's emergency exit. But one of the cabin crew ordered him to take the emergency exit at the back. In the aisles, there was utter panic as passengers jostled towards the exit.
The exits opened and the slides were flung open. The passengers started jumping out without a thought where they would land. "I realized that couldn't reach the exit at the back, so I just jumped out of the exit door in the middle of the flight," said Joji.
And they ran. "For around 10 minutes, I just kept running. I did not stop till I felt it was safe to breathe," Joji said. Behind him he could hear an explosion. Passengers of EK 521 said it now seemed like an eternity, but all 282 passengers were evacuated in a matter of 45 seconds. Joji said he heard some people land with a thud onto the tarmac.
"Some had leg injuries and small fractures. My left hand was injured but it was nothing serious." Sai Bhaskar, another passenger on the flight, said, "Had we been delayed inside the aircraft even for a minute more, there would have been a tragedy."
Sarah-Louise Sherwood, another passenger, said, "I couldn't believe my eyes. I was absolutely horrified. The slides came out but they were blowing all over the place. People managed to escape just before there was an explosion, with flames everywhere."