"As far as the information available with us is concerned, eight persons were rescued and shifted to local hospitals in Mangalore for their treatment," Anup Shrivasta, Air India's personnel director, announced in Mumbai.

R Ramesh, Mangalore's deputy police commissioner, said the jet crashed at around 6:30am local time (0100 GMT) after overshooting the runway.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, although Ramesh said the airport had been hit by heavy rains which hampered rescue efforts.

Indications are that the crash was an accident, Indian officials said.

One TV report said the aircraft hit a radar pole on landing.

"There was no distress indication from the pilot. That means between the pilot and the airport communication, there was no indication of any problem," VP Agarwal, director of Airports Authority of India, said.

Budget carrier

Television footage suggested the airliner had partially broken up, with smoke emanating from the fuselage, as rescue workers tried to douse the fire with foam.

Television images showed what appeared to be a forested area around the crash site.

 

According to WAM, the UAE's state news agency, the aircraft's cockpit voice and flight data recorders - or the "black box" - have been recovered.

Prerna Suri, Al Jazeera's India correspondent, said fire engines and rescue workers had difficulty accessing the scene as it is on a hilltop.

She spoke of "incredible stories of survival", including that of a man who managed to clamber out of the wreckage shortly after the crash.

"He managed to run to a local village despite his bone injuries and they took him to hospital in a three-wheel rickshaw," she said.

Flames were seen blazing from the wreckage as rescue workers fought to bring the fire under control.
 
One television channel showed a fireman carrying in his arms what seemed to be the body of a child.
 
Investigation launched

Vasanthi Hariprakash, a reporter in Mangalore with India's NDTV channel, said investigations have begun at the crash site to determine what happened.

"What has been debated is the structure of the airport," she told Al Jazeera.

"The airport is about 40 years old [and] we are talking about a very difficult topography. The airport is surrounded by hills. [An accident] of this magnitude has raised questions of the flying ability and how much risk was involved.

"This particular airport is a little tricky because it does not have the required 100 yards just in case the plane veers off the runway. But those are questions that will be seriously probed in the days to come."

The Mangalore tragedy is the first major air crash in India in nearly a decade.
 
Sixty-one people were killed when a Boeing 737 aircraft belonging to the domestic airline, Alliance Air, crashed into a residential area near the airport in the eastern Indian city of Patna in July 2000.