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Air India plane with Kerala nurses reaches Mumbai

Mumbai/Kochi, July 5 (IANS): A special Air India flight with 183 people on board, including the 46 nurses freed by insurgents in Iraq, arrived here Saturday morning, spelling relief for the Indian government and families of the stranded Indians.

The plane landed for refuelling and for loading food for the passengers. Nobody disembarked in Mumbai, and the plane is expected to leave for Kochi, where it will land around 11.50 a.m.

The plane will then fly to Hyderabad and finally to New Delhi, Air India officials said.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that at one point of time, he had lost all hope as the plane did not get permission to land in Erbil because of heavy wind.

He thanked External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for all efforts made to bring back the nurses to India.

The flight includes the 46 Indian nurses from Kerala whose fate in strife-torn Iraq had kept the entire nation on tenterhooks for the past few days.

Reports said many nurses protested at the Erbil airport, saying they won't board the plane unless they are paid their four months' arrear salary.

Indian officials persuaded them, and they finally agreed.

All the 180 passengers, plus three crew members, are reported to be safe, the officials said.

Chandy will receive the nurses at the Kochi airport, where a special immigration desk has been set up.

The Air India flight took off earlier from Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, after the nurses were freed by the insurgents following intense Indian diplomatic efforts.