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Nepal tragedy: Toll rises to 51; confusion possibly led to US Bangla crash

Expressing shock over the US-Bangla Airlines crash in Kathmandu that killed 49, Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli tweeted that his government would 'investigate the incident immediately'

BS Web Team  |  New Delhi 

Kathmandu: Nepalese rescuers work after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal
Nepalese rescuers work after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: PTI/AP

A passenger plane of the US-Bangla Airlines, flying to from Dhaka, crash-landed and exploded into a ball of flame on Monday at the Airport (TIA), in Nepal's capital Kathmandu, authorities said. Of the 71 people on board, as many as 49 were killed and 22 injured in the crash.

The death toll in the crash was confirmed by Police spokesperson Manoj Neupane. The aircraft caught fire after it skidded off the runway at TIA while landing. Subsequently, the plane crashed in a field, apparently due to technical glitches. The crash is being described as Nepal's worst aviation disaster in over 25 years.

Condoling the bereaved families, Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli tweeted that his government would "investigate the incident immediately".

Director General of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, Sanjiv Gautam, said that the plane lost control when it attempted to land on the runway. "The aircraft was permitted to land from the southern side of the runway flying over Koteshwor but it landed from the northern side," said Gautam. He added that the aircraft might have sustained technical glitches. "We are yet to ascertain the reason behind the unusual landing," he said.

On Monday, India condoled the loss of lives in the airplane crash and offered any assistance required. The US, too, offered its sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims who were killed in the at Kathmandu's Airport.

The victims of the were citizens of Nepal, Bangladesh, China, and the Maldives, according to a TIA spokesperson.

After the crash, all flights in and out of the Airport were cancelled. The airport was reopened later.

Here are the top 10 developments around the Tribhuvan International Airport plane crash, which is Nepal's worst aviation disaster in over 25 years:

1) Nepal caused by confusion about runway?

Nepalese investigators have retrieved the black box from the wreckage a Bangladeshi plane that crashed here, killing 49 people, authorities said today as the conversation between the air traffic controllers and the pilot before the tragedy indicated a possible confusion over the runway.

2) Death toll confirmed: According to updated figures, 49 people were killed and 22 injured when the passenger plane crash-landed and exploded at Nepal's main airport on Monday. Police spokesperson Manoj Neupane confirmed the death toll.

According to Neupane's statement, 31 bodies were recovered from the wreckage of the crashed plane while 18 died in hospitals.

3) Nationalities of the deceased: The 78-seater Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft, which caught fire after it skidded off the runway at the Tribhuvan International Airport, was carrying 71 people.

TIA spokesperson Prem Nath Thakur informed that of the 71 people on board, four were crew members, 33 were Nepalis, 32 Bangladeshis, one Chinese, and one Maldivian national.

4) Airline accuses airport authorities: Imran Asif, who is US-Bangla Airlines' chief executive officer, held Kathmandu's air traffic control responsible for the disaster, accusing it of giving wrong signals, The Himalayan Times, a Nepalese English daily, reported.

Asif claimed that wrong signals might have caused the crash. The Nepalese paper quoted him as telling reporters in Dhaka: "A three-minute conversation between the pilot and the air traffic control before the landing indicated that they sent wrong signal to the pilot."

A Bangladeshi news site, the Dailystar, reported that officials suspect "negligence" on part of the airport's air traffic control. According to the site, Asif told the media that there was a "tendency of giving misinformation and a negligence on behalf of the ATC at Nepal airport".

According to the Bangladeshi news site, the pilot of the plane was Abid Sultan, who had 5,000 hours of flying experience under his belt. The report added that Sultan was an instructor for Bombardier.

5) Airport authorities blame pilot: Raj Kumar Chettri, Tribhuvan International Airport general manager, said that the ill-fated US-Bangla Airlines' pilot disregarded their messages and came in from the wrong direction, according to The Himalayan Times report.

Chettri said that the horrific accident took place after the pilot disobeyed the Air Traffic Controller's instructions and took an opposite direction while descending. "Our ATC permitted the aircraft to land from the southern side of the runway but it changed its route and attempted to land from northern side," said Chettri. The airport manager called this action on the pilot's part the "main reason behind the accident".

According to the Nepalese daily, Chettri said that the pilot had said that he wanted to go in a northern direction moments after the US-Bangla Airlines' flight received permission to land. Chettri told the paper that when asked by the control tower if there was a problem, the pilot had replied in the negative.

Chettri described what happened next to the Nepalese paper: The US-Bangla Airlines' flight was then seen making two rounds in a northeast direction. Once again, the traffic controllers asked the pilot if things were OK. The pilot replied in the positive. Subsequently, the tower told the pilot that his alignment was incorrect. However, they received no reply.

"The plane should have come from the right direction," Chettri told the newspaper. The aircraft narrowly went past a Thai Airways aircraft parked on the runway, he told news agencies.

At the time of reporting, the Nepalese newspaper said that it was not clear whether the pilot had issued a "Mayday" call.

6) Nepalese PM assures of immediate investigation: Expressing shock and offering his condolences to the bereaved families, Nepalese Prime Minister tweeted that his government would "investigate the incident immediately".

According to The Himalayan Times, the Nepalese Prime Minister, along with his defence minister and home minister, and the Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Paudel reached the accident site to take stock of the situation. The Ambassador of Bangladesh to Nepal was also present at the site.

7) Bangladeshi PM cuts short Singapore trip: After the Nepal plane accident, Bangladeshi Prime Minister cut short her Singapore trip and would be returning to her country on Tuesday instead of Wednesday evening, when she was originally scheduled to return, the Dailystar reported. According to the news site, Prime Minister Hasina was in Singapore on a four-day official visit.

Further, the report said that Hasina called her Nepalese counterpart, assuring him of all-out assistance from Bangladesh. While citing media reports, the news site said that in a video message from Singapore, Hasina said: "Immediately after the plane crash, I talked to the Prime Minister of Nepal... I told the Prime Minister of Nepal that Bangladesh will always stand by it in the rescue work, treatment and whatever necessary."

8) India condoles loss of lives, offers assistance: Offering any assistance required, India condoled the loss of lives in the Bangladesh airline's crash in Nepal's capital Kathmandu.

External Affairs Minister spoke to her Bangladeshi counterpart Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali and expressed deepest condolences over the loss of lives in the crash and offered all assistance.

"EAM @SushmaSwaraj spoke to Bangladesh Foreign Minister & expressed deepest condolences & sympathies for the loss of lives in the crash of in Kathmandu today. EAM offered any assistance required in Kathmandu, and shared thoughts and prayers for those injured," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

9) US offers condolences: The US offered its sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims who were killed in the crash at the Tribhuvan International Airport.

We offer our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims, a State Department Spokesperson said. We are not aware of any request for US assistance at this time, the spokesperson added.

10) Survivor says 'lucky to be alive': Basanta Bohora, a Nepalese and one of the few passengers to escape with injuries in the deadly plane crash, said that he was lucky to be alive. Bohora, is an employee of Raswita International Travels and Tours.

He recalled that the take-off from Dhaka was normal but when the plane approached the Tribhuvan International Airport for landing, the aircraft began to behave strangely.

"All of a sudden, the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang afterwards," he was quoted as saying by Kathmandu Post. "I was seated near the window and was able to break out of the window," he added.

"I have received injuries to my head and legs but I am fortunate that I survived the ordeal," he said. "I have no recollection after I got out of the plane, someone took me to Sinamangal hospital and from there my friends brought me to Norvic," he added.

According to agency reports, Bohora was receiving treatment at Thapathali-based Norvic Hospital at the time of reporting.

Frequent air accidents in Nepal

Mountainous Nepal is notorious for air accidents. Small aircraft often run into trouble at provincial airstrips. A Thai Airways flight from Bangkok crashed while trying to land in Kathmandu in 1992 killing all on board.

In early 2016, a Twin Otter turboprop aircraft slammed into a mountainside in Nepal killing all 23 people on board. Two days later, two pilots were killed when a small passenger plane crash-landed in the country's hilly midwest.

With agency inputs

First Published: Tue, March 13 2018. 20:56 IST