Fri | Dec 14, 2018

50 killed as plane veers off Nepal's Kathmandu runway

Published:Monday | March 12, 2018 | 3:23 PM
A fire-fighter at the scene of the fatal plane crash in Nepal - AP photo

A plane carrying 71 people from Bangladesh swerved erratically and flew dangerously low before crashing and erupting in flames as it landed Monday in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, killing at least 50 people, officials and witnesses said.

A top airport official said the pilot of US-Bangla Airlines flight BS211 did not follow landing instructions from the control tower and approached the airport's one runway from the wrong direction.

"The airplane was not properly aligned with the runway. The tower repeatedly asked if the pilot was OK and the reply was 'yes,'" said Raj Kumar Chetri, the airport's general manager.

But a recording of the conversations between the pilot and air traffic controllers indicated confusion over which direction the plane should land.

In the recording, posted by the air traffic monitoring website liveatc.net, conversation veers repeatedly about whether the pilot should land on the airport's single runway from the south or the north.

Just before landing the pilot asks "Are we cleared to land?"

Moments later, the controller comes back on, using a tone rarely heard in such conversations — perhaps even panic — and tells the pilot: "I say again, turn!"

Seconds later, the controller orders fire trucks onto the runway.

The exact number of dead and injured remained unclear amid the chaos of the crash and the rush of badly injured people to nearby hospitals, but Brigadier General Gokul Bhandari, the Nepal army spokesman, said it was clear that at least 50 people had died.

Officials at Kathmandu Medical College, the closest hospital to the airport, said they were treating 16 survivors.

US-Bangla Airlines flight BS211 from Dhaka to Kathmandu was carrying 67 passengers and four crew members, according to an airline spokesman.

An AP journalist who arrived at the scene soon after the crash saw the twin-propeller plane broken into several large pieces, with dozens of fire fighters and rescue workers clustered around the wreckage in a grassy field near the runway.

Hundreds of people stood on a nearby hill, staring down at what remained of the Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft.

The plane swerved repeatedly as it prepared to land in Kathmandu, said Amanda Summers, an American working in Nepal.

The crowded city sits in a valley in the Himalayan foothills.

"It was flying so low I thought it was going to run into the mountains," said Summers, who watched the crash from the terrace of her home office, not far from the airport.

"All of a sudden there was a blast and then another blast."

Fire crews put out the flames quickly, perhaps within a minute, she said, though for a time clouds of thick, dark smoke rose into the sky above the city.

The plane had circled Tribhuvan International Airport twice as it waited for clearance to land, Mohammed Selim, the airline's manager in Kathmandu, told Dhaka-based Somoy TV by telephone.

The plane was 17 years old, company officials said.

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