A plane carrying 71 passengers and crew has crashed on landing at Nepal’s Kathmandu airport, killing 49 people, according to police. Rescuers pulled bodies from the charred wreckage of the plane, operated by Bangladeshi airline US-Bangla, after a raging fire was put out.
The airline has blamed air traffic control, but the airport says the plane approached from the wrong direction. Flight BS211 veered off the runway while landing on Monday afternoon. The exact cause of the crash remains unclear and Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli promised an immediate investigation.
However, a recording of the conversation between the pilot and air traffic control minutes before the plane crashed suggests some misunderstanding over which end of the sole runway the plane was cleared to land on. Moments before the plane crash-landed, an air traffic controller is heard in the recording obtained by the BBC from air traffic monitor LiveATC telling the pilot: “I say again, turn!”
Twenty-two people are being treated in hospital for injuries, police spokesperson Manoj Neupane told the BBC’s Nepali service. The plane, which was flying from the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, was a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop and was 17 years old.
How did the disaster unfold?
The plane landed at 14:20 local time (08:35 GMT), according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
“The aircraft was permitted to land from the southern side of the runway flying over Koteshwor, but it landed from the northern side,” Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, was quoted as saying by the Kathmandu Post.
“We are yet to ascertain the reason behind the unusual landing.”
However, US-Bangla Airlines chief executive Imran Asif blamed Kathmandu air traffic control.
“There were wrong directions from the tower. Our pilot was not at fault,” he told reporters at his office in Dhaka.
“Our pilot is an instructor of this Bombardier aircraft. His flight hours are over 5,000. There was a fumble from the control tower.”
Airport general manager Raj Kumar Chettri told Reuters news agency that the plane hit the airport fence before touching ground.
“The plane should have come from the right direction,” he said.
One of the survivors, Nepalese travel agent Basanta Bohora, described from his hospital bed what he had experienced.
After a normal take-off from Dhaka, the plane had begun to behave strangely as it approached Kathmandu, he said.
“All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang afterwards,” he was quoted as saying by the Kathmandu Post.
“I was seated near the window and was able to break out of the window,” he added.
“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 [hospital]. I have injuries to my head and legs, but I am fortunate that I survived.”
What do we know of the casualties?
The plane was carrying 67 passengers and four crew. It is now known that 33 of the passengers were Nepalis, 32 were Bangladeshi, one was Chinese and one was from the Maldives. Among the 22 people injured, some are in a critical condition. An airline worker said he saw two or three people fall or jump from the windows of the burning plane.
Does Nepal have a bad aviation safety record?
Its airline companies are banned from flying within the European Union.
There have been many aviation incidents in Nepal, but this is the deadliest since a Pakistan International Airlines plane crashed on approach in September 1992, killing all 167 on board. Earlier that same year, a Thai Airways plane crashed near the airport, leaving 113 people dead. Pilots say that landing at Kathmandu airport can be challenging because of the mountainous landscape.
Recent aviation incidents in Nepal include:
- February 2016: Twenty-three people were killed when a small passenger plane crashed in mountainous western Nepal
- March 2015: Lucky escape for passengers after plane skids off runway in fog in Kathmandu
- February 2014: Bodies of all 18 people recovered after small plane crashes in western Nepal
- September 2012: Plane heading for Everest region crashes on the outskirts of Kathmandu, killing all 19 on board
- May 2012: Fifteen people die when a plane carrying Indian pilgrims crashes in northern Nepal
- September 2010: Sightseeing flight crashes into a hillside near Kathmandu
- September 2006: All 24 people on board a WWF helicopter die when it crashes in eastern Nepal