First two Air India flights of Vande Bharat mission land in Kerala

Two special flights from the UAE carrying a total of 363 Indian nationals, including nine infants, has landed in kerala as India began its biggest ever repatriation exercise to bring back its citizens stranded abroad amidst the coronavirus-induced travel restrictions.

The first Air India Express flight IX 452 carrying 177 passengers and four infants from Abu Dhabi to Kochi took off at 5.07 pm. Few minutes later, the Dubai-Kozhikode flight IX 344 with 177 passengers and five infants took off at 5.46 pm as part of the repatriation exercise named ‘Vande Bharat Mission.’The two flights carried a total of 363 passengers, including nine infants, an airline spokesman said in Kochi.

Nearly 15,000 Indians stranded overseas are expected to return on special Air India flights from 12 countries over a week, starting Thursday. The government will operate 64 flights until May 13 and use three Navy ships, as part of Phase I of an evacuation plan, named “Vande Bharat Mission”.

Of the 64 flights, 15 would be to Kerala, 11 each to Delhi and Tamil Nadu, seven each to Maharashtra and Telangana, and the rest to Gujarat, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh.

Passengers selected by the Indian missions started arriving at the Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports as early as 9.30 am on Thursday.

Indian Ambassador to the UAE Pavan Kapoor was seen enquiring about their wellbeing from some of the passengers undergoing medical screening at the Abu Dhabi airport.

“Great to see the #VandeBharatMission Abu Dhabi Kochi special flight IX452 taking off from the @AUH. Thanks all for cooperation and support for making it possible,” the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi tweeted.

Captain Rizvin Nasser, 26, an alumnus of the Sharjah Indian School, was the co-pilot of flight IX452 to Kochi.

“Air India Express Flight left for Kozhikode with 177 passengers on board with last passenger Ajith was added to attend final rites of her mother after one passenger dropped out due to immigration issue. A big satisfaction to serve all,” the Consulate General of India in Dubai tweeted.

Ajith Pullanikotti, an IT professional, made it to the flight at the last minute to be able to attend the last rites of his mother who died two days ago. He was the only son.

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