The aircraft, en route from Dubai, skidded off the runway and broke in two at Calicut airport upon landing, India’s aviation authority said.
Rescue operations are underway, with emergency services at the scene. At least two people, including the pilot, have died, the BBC has been told.
Most people on board the Boeing 737 jet have been evacuated, with at least 35 of them taken to hospital with injuries, and 20 died, authorities said.
The airline said there were 184 passengers – including 10 children and seven crew members, of which two were pilots – onboard flight IX-1344 when it crashed at Calicut, also known as Kozhikode.
The flight was being operated by the government to repatriate Indians stuck overseas during the coronavirus crisis.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said the plane fell into a valley and broke in two after skidding off the end of the runway. No fire was reported at the time of landing, the aviation regulator said.
Images carried by Indian media show the aircraft broken in two pieces, with people searching through the wreckage.
“Distressed to learn about the tragic accident of Air India Express aircraft in Kozhikode, Kerala. Have instructed NDRF [National Disaster Response Force] to reach the site at the earliest and assist with the rescue operations,” Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah tweeted.
Distressed to learn about the tragic accident of Air India Express aircraft in Kozhikode, Kerala.— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) August 7, 2020
Have instructed NDRF to reach the site at the earliest and assist with the rescue operations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the phone about the plane accident at Kozhikode airport.
The Prime Minister promised all the assistance from the Centre.
The Chief Minister informed the Prime Minister that a team of officials including Kozhikode and Malappuram district collectors and Inspector General Ashok Yadav reached the airport and were involved in the rescue operation, a CMO release said.
The incident happened at around 19:00 local time (14:30 BST) amid heavy rainfall in the region. There have been flooding and landslides, as India’s monsoon season reaches its peak.
Earlier on Friday, dozens of people were feared dead in Kerala’s Idukki district after monsoon-season floods triggered a landslide.
Plane crashes have happened before during India’s monsoon season, which lasts from June to September and wreaks havoc across South Asia every year.
In May 2010, 158 people died when an Air India Express flight overshot Mangalore airport runway and crashed. A similar incident happened in July 2019 in Mangalore, prompting an inquiry.