In a State which is called “God’s Own Country” even during flooding, landslides and to top it all airplane crash, all within 24 hours, it was protected and many lives saved, only because the hand of God came into action. That hand of God was from the common people of Kerala.
The crash of an Air India Express flight while landing at the Kozhikode Airport on Friday evening was unlike anything that the State has seen and the news of the crash came even as Kerala was coming to terms with the landslide in Munnar, Idukki where nearly 80 people were swept away in the heavy rains. It was a fall in all natural and unnatural parameters for Kerala.
“I heard two loud thuds and thought it was thunder. However, as screaming and calls for help became louder, we ran out, without wearing gloves or masks,” Fazal Puthiyakath, a first responder said as media reported. The 32-year-old Kondotty resident remembers seeing the aircraft, split at the middle and the cockpit rammed against one of the airport’s outer walls, when he reached the site.
The Calicut International Airport is nestled among low green hillocks in Karippur village on the Malappuram-Kozhikode border at a distance of more than 30 kilometers from the district headquarters. The wonder of the community camaraderie within minutes of the accident, even during the time of social distancing and the threat of Covid-19 which in fact hit Kerala first and before relief teams could reach, the villagers rushed in. They jumped the gates and walls, rushed into the split aircraft, which was still in danger of exploding and catching fire. The villagers who shelved all Covid-19 norms proved their mantle during this pandemic, not to forget that Kerala is a very literate State, just to save the lives which were hanging by a very thin thread and were trapped inside the broken fuselage.
With airport authorities and support staff leading the way, the injured were rushed to far away towns of Manjeri, Malappuran and Kozhikode. Local young men with their vehicles swung into action to support the modest institutional resources. On the spot decisions were taken and the seriously injured were sent straight away in the direction of bigger hospitals. Social media also helped people to get information on time and several of the Kerala samaritans queued up before many hospitals to donate blood and this was all impromptu. It shows how Kerala is always prepared for any disaster whether it is floods, landslide or even an airplane crash. It will be an interesting study to know how the people of this State are so aware of all these exigency operations.
Debates have always been there for formally involving local communities in disaster management plans. In the same way SOPs and processes mature over practice and time, local communities and panchayats bring some core capacities and capabilities during the time of need. Their local knowledge at crucial time and their awareness of the ecosystem of healthcare, support facilities should be more valued than of those who may have visited the site for the first time and supervising the rescue operation. It will surely help significantly to quickly mobilise and upscale rescue, transportation of casualties during this “golden hour” after an accident. Local assistance is key to search and rescue, reducing the time to secondary and tertiary medical attention.
Residents of Kerala, especially in the southern Malabar region, are used to acts of courage and selfless service by local communities at the time of disasters and that only come through proper training and even education at the primary level. During the Kadalundi train disaster in 2001, as also during the Perumon tragedy further south in 1988, locals jumped into rising water levels to rescue passengers from rail bogies. More recently during the big floods of 2018, fishermen from the coasts rowed up flooded waters to fish out people to safety from rooftops and other precarious perches.
When it comes to leadership at the community or panchayat level in meeting life's challenges, Kerala is in a league of its own. Can Goa take a leaf out of Kerala and prepare a holistic and foolproof disaster management plan for land, sea and air and now even Covid-19 like pandemic?