An Air India jumbo jet flying to the Middle East with 213 people aboard exploded and crashed into the sea tonight shortly after taking off from Bombay. Rescue workers said there were no signs of survivors.
Air India officials said the plane was carrying 190 passengers and 23 crew members. Most of the passengers were believed to be Indians.
Residents of a western Bombay suburb said they saw the Boeing 747 split in two after an explosion and plunge into the Arabian Sea.
An Air India spokesman said wreckage of the airliner has been found two miles offshore.
The plane, bound for the Persian Gulf state of Dubai, took off from Bombay's Santa Cruz International Airport about an hour behind schedule.
Airport officials said radio contact was lost immediately after takeoff. They said the aircraft was tracked on radar screens for only four and a half miles.
Today's crash marked the second time in the last 15 months that an Air India plane has gone down in mysterious circumstances soon after takeoff from Santa Cruz airport.
All 95 people aboard an Indian Airlines Caravelle died when the plane crashed just short of the main runway when it caught fire on takeoff on Oct. 12, 1976.
The crash would become India's worst air disaster, and the third worst in aviation history, if all aboard perished. The worst air disaster in aviation history came on March 27, 1977, when a KLM Boeing 747 taking off at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands crashed into a taxiling chartered Pan-Am 747, killing 582 persons. The second was on March 3, 1974 when a Turkish DC-10 jet crashed at Ermenonville near Paris, killing 345 persons.
A naval officer told police he saw the Air India plane bank to the left and crash into the sea at an angle of about 45 degrees.
Another eyewitness said he could identify the Air India markings on the tail section of the plane as it went down.
The aircraft, named the "Emperor Ashoka," was the first jumbo jet acquired by Air India in 1970, airline officials said.
Naval officials said the waters along the coast where the wreckage was sighted were shallow, with an average depth of only 20 to 25 feet.
In addition to three navy ships dispatched to the crash site, three air force helicopters equipped with searchlights flew to the vicinity. Three more ships with rubber rafts and divers were deployed later to help in the rescue effort.
Airport officials and police received a spate of calls soon after the plane crashed reporting an explosion over the sea.
One group of people playing cards at a hotel on the seafront said there had been a loud explosion that shook their tables. Other callers said there had been more than one explosion.
Numerous Indians have been traveling to the Middle East to take jobs in the oil-rich gulf states. The Dubai flight apparently was carrying many of them.
Air India and other carriers have added more flights and bigger planes to their Middle East routes but seats to such destinations as Dubai are still in short supply.