Wreckage of the aircraft of US-Bangla Airlines is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport yesterday. -Reuters
An aircraft belonging to a Bangladeshi airline US-Bangla crashed yesterday as it began its descent at Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport. The plane burst into flames and splintered into several pieces on impact, said officials in Dhaka and Kathmandu. This is the third major air accident for Bangladesh since 1972.
Officials of the private US-Bangla airlines said there were 71 people on board their Bombardier Q400 series aircraft when it took off from Dhaka. Raj Kumar Chettri, the general manager of the hill-ringed airport with a complicated runway, said that moments after the plane received permission to land, the pilot said he wanted to go in a northern direction and had no problem.
However, a foreign ministry official with Nepal hotline service told the Asian Age late yesterday that they had confirmed 49 dead and 22 hospitalized, 18 of them critically injured. "Nine have been so far identified as Bangladeshis who are being treated at the hospital," said official M. Delwar Hossain. He, however could not say the fate of the captain of the plane, but the co-pilot was dead.
Reuters news agency quoted Chhetri as saying that the plane was then seen making two rounds in a northeast direction and the pilot told the tower everything was all right. But, he added, as the tower told him that the aircraft's alignment was incorrect, there was no reply but silence.
"We have recovered 50 dead bodies so far," said Nepali army spokesman Gokul Bhandari. Although several people had been rescued from the burning wreckage of the Bombardier Q400 series aircraft, nine people were still unaccounted for, he added.
A senior Bangladeshi pilot told the Asian Age that the captain was in a critical state, while the co-pilot was killed in the disaster. The passengers included 32 Bangladeshis, including government officials, 33 Nepalis, one from China and one from the Maldives.
Bangladesh's first air disaster in 1972 was a Dakota aircraft, gifted by the Maharaja of Jodhpur in India, killed six people, while the second was in 1984 when a Fokker F-27 crashed as it skidded into ditch leaving killing all 45 onboard. The Fokker's pilot was the country's first woman captain, Kaniz Fatema Roksana.
"All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang," one of the survivors, Basanta Bohora, told the Kathmandu Post daily. "I was seated near a window and was able to break out of the window."
Meanwhile, US-Bangla Airlines Chief Executive Officer Imran Asif told reporters at his office in Dhaka hours after the tragedy that neither his company's aircraft nor the pilot were at fault. In his opinion, it was a wrong signal from air traffic control (ATC) tower of Tribhuvan International Airport which caused the disaster.
"ATC tower misguided our pilots. They didn't know where to land on the runway," he alleged. The accident was the latest to hit mountainous Nepal, which has a poor record of air safety, with many small private aircraft operating across the Himalayan country getting caught in such disasters.
One of Bangladesh's senior most pilots, Captain Shahabuddin Ahmed, who started flying in 1968 and retired from Biman Bangladesh Airlines in 2007, told the Asian Age that there were three main reasons for an aircraft to crash --- weather, technical and pilot's error.
"The Tribhuvan is a peculiar type of airport and needs a different technical landing which again requires proper training as well as experience … I suspect the pilot of US-Bangla airlines suddenly pulled up and its wing on one side dropped and broke on impact with the ground," he said. He added that one needed to manouevre the plane for a safe landing.
Shahab said from his knowledge and long experience, the most essential part of descending at that airport is to be careful with the rate of descent as the runway was not straight as at Dhaka's Shahjalal International Airport, but was a curved one with the end going uphill.
Many of the covered bodies that lay on the tarmac were charred, witnesses said. The aircraft was 17 years old, data from tracking website Flightradar24.comshowed. It descended to an airport altitude of 4,400 feet (1,341 m) and then climbed to 6,600 feet (2,012 m) before crashing about two minutes later, the website said.
Bombardier said on Twitter it was saddened by the accident."Our thoughts are with those injured, and their families," it said. US-Bangla Airlines is a unit of the US-Bangla Group, a US-Bangladesh joint venture company. The Bangladeshi carrier, which launched operations in July 2014, operates Bombardier and Boeing aircrafts.
-Nadeem Qadir with agency reports, AA
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