US-Bangla Airlines plane crashes at Kathmandu airport, 49 killed

The US-Bangla Airlines flight from Dhaka to Kathmandu had 67 passengers and four crew members on board.

world Updated: Mar 13, 2018 07:49 IST
Anil Giri
Anil Giri
Hindustan Times, Kathmandu
Nepal plane crash,Tribhuvan International Airport,Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport
Wreckage of an airplane at Kathmandu airport on March 12, 2018.(Reuters)

A Bangladeshi airliner with 71 people on board crashed and burst into flames while landing in Kathmandu on Monday, killing 49 people and injuring more than 20 others in the worst aviation disaster to hit Nepal in nearly three decades.

The US-Bangla Airlines flight from Dhaka swerved repeatedly as it descended towards Tribhuvan International Airport, witnesses said. The plane crashed during a second attempt to land after an unexpected turn in cloudy weather, they added.

The Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft came down east of the runway and careened into a football field. Rescue teams had to cut apart the mangled and burned wreckage of the upturned plane to pull people out.

“Forty people died at the spot and nine died at two hospitals in Kathmandu,” police spokesman Manoj Neupane said, adding another 22 were being treated in hospital, some in a critical condition. The dead included a newly married Bangladeshi couple on their honeymoon.

A statement from airport authorities said the plane was “out of control” as it came in to land. The authorities also told a news conference the pilot descended from a route opposite to the one assigned by air traffic controllers.

The twin-engine turboprop airliner was carrying 67 passengers and four crew members, said airport spokesman Prem Nath Thakur. The two pilots and two cabin crew were Bangladeshi nationals.

The passengers included 33 from Nepal, 32 from Bangladesh, and one each from China and the Maldives. Local media reported some of the Nepalese passengers were college students returning from a holiday. There was also a group of 16 Nepalese travel agents in the aircraft.

Huge plumes of smoke were seen over the airport after the plane crashed at 2.40 pm local time and caught fire.

“All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang,” Basanta Bohora, one of the survivors, told Kathmandu Post at Norvic Hospital. “I was seated near a window and was able to break out of the window.”

Officials said the air traffic controllers repeatedly asked the pilot why he had changed the alignment and route assigned to him for approaching the airport but there was no response. The conversation between the air traffic controllers and the pilot, which was made public, suggested the pilot ignored instructions from the ground.

Raj Kumar Chettri, general manager of the airport, told the news conference the aircraft was permitted to land from the southern side of the runway but it changed direction and attempted to land from northern side.

“This was main reason behind the accident,” he said. “In our preliminary findings, the aircraft might have sustained some technical glitches but we are yet to ascertain the reason behind the unusual landing.”

Amanda Summers, an American who works in Nepal, watched the crash from the terrace of her home office, not far from the airport.

“It was flying so low I thought it was going to run into the mountains,” she said. “All of a sudden there was a blast and then another blast,” she added.

Nitin Keyal , a medical student, was about to board a domestic flight when he saw the plane coming in. “It was flying very low,” he said. “Everyone just froze looking at it. You could tell it wasn’t a normal landing.”

He added, “For a few minutes no one could believe what was happening. It was just terrible.”

Flights to Tribhuvan International Airport were diverted after it was closed for more than two hours following the crash.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli telephoned his Bangladesh counterpart and expressed sorrow at the loss of lives in the crash. “Extremely shocked by unfortunate crash of US-Bangla aircraft carrying 67 passengers and 4 crew members. Express deep sorrow on loss of lives and (condolences) to bereaved families and also wish for early recovery of injured persons. Government will investigate the incident immediately,” he tweeted.

US-Bangla Airlines is owned by US-Bangla Group, a joint venture company with offices in Dhaka, New York, India and other Asian hubs. It has been operating since 2014 out of its home airport in Bangladesh and flies to several domestic and international destinations. The parent company is involved in a number of industries, including real estate, education and agriculture.

The Canadian-made Bombardier Dash 8 was 17 years old. Mahbubur Rahman of Bangladesh’s civil aviation ministry said: “There might be technical problems on the aircraft. But it has to be probed before making a final statement.”

Kathmandu has Nepal’s only international airport and experts say the surrounding Himalayan mountains makes it testing for pilots coming in to land. “The landing at Kathmandu because of the terrain is a little challenging,” said Gabriele Ascenzo, a Canadian pilot who runs aviation safety courses in Nepal.

Depending on the direction of approach, pilots have to fly over high terrain before making a steep descent towards the airport, Ascenzo said.

The accident was the deadliest since September 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it crashed as it approached Kathmandu airport. Just two months earlier, a Thai Airways aircraft crashed near the same airport, killing 113 people.

(With agency inputs )

First Published: Mar 12, 2018 14:54 IST