Family members and relatives of the victims of US-Bangla plane crash heading to Nepal to see their beloved ones on Tuesday. -Jahidul Islam
The crash of the US-Bangla aircraft in Nepal and the rise in death toll to 51 appears to have been overshadowed by the debate - who was at fault for the tragic mishap?
Media reports from around the world have been focusing on trading of blames for such a major disaster, one of the worst in the Tribhuvan International Airport labeled by seasoned pilots as "dangerous" and "peculiar."
While the US-Bangla Airline blamed the Air Traffic Control, the Tribhuban airport says the plane landed from the wrong direction from the North instead of South against the direction given by Air Traffic Control. An expert was of the
opinion that the weather was not good with a storm approaching, while a Nepal Civil Aviation official said the weather was clear.
The crash of the US-Bangla Airlines flight BS211, that killed 51 people on Monday near Tribhuvan International Airport in Nepal's capital city Kathmandu, raises questions that must be scrutinized and studied by the established investigation committee.
A passenger on the ill-fated flight, Annie Almun, says, "I remember the plane breaking into two. We saw a crack and my husband asked me to jump. I did so. My two-year-old daughter held onto my husband. I just want to know what happened to them." She is at the Kathmandu Medical Hospital and undergoing a surgery on her right hand.
The names of her husband, well-known photographer from Bangladesh, FH Priok, and daughter, Tamarra, cannot be found on the treatment list issued at the press conference by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN). Priok's brother and his wife, Mehadi Hasan and Shworna, who were on the same flight, have undergone operations and are out of danger. They, however, still are unconscious.
The Director General (DG) of CAAN, Sanjiv Gautam, said the Nepal government has established an investigation committee under the chairmanship of a former DG and civil aviation secretary Yagya Prashad Gautam. Refusing to comment on the leaked radio transmission between the air traffic control and cockpit, Gautam said conclusions cannot be made without establishing all facts. "We will provide all the necessary information to the investigation committee and all employees will be interviewed by them."
Meanwhile, the death toll rose to 51 with the death of Abid Sultan, the pilot of the US-Bangla Airlines plane that crashed. Sultan was admitted in a critical condition to a Kathmandu hospital, said Islam, a deputy general manager at the US-Bangla Airlines. Co-pilot Prithula Rashid and crew member Khwaja Hussain died instantly.
There were 33 Nepali passengers, 32 Bangladeshis, one each from China and the Maldives. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who condoled the tragic deaths, cut short her official visit to Singapore and returned home yesterday to stand beside the families of those who lost dear ones in the crash.
Kamrul Islam, spokesman for the US-Bangla airlines in Dhaka, told the Asia Age yesterday, "we do not want to go into any debate or blame game, but since the black boxes (the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder) have been recovered from the wreckage, everyone should wait until investigators finish their job."
He said most people were referring to a Youtube footage which maybe fake, "but definitely somebody is at fault." "The big question is why six people manning the Air Tower Control during the landing of our doomed flight have been posted out … why?" Kamrul asked.
Nepal's My República reported yesterday that "six officers stationed at the Air Traffic Control Tower who witnessed the US Bangla air crash in Kathmandu have been shifted to another department to 'minimise shock of the accident."
The Himalayan nation has a chequered history when it comes to air safety, with more than 70 crashes involving planes and helicopters since 1949, the year the first aircraft landed there.
"Unfortunately unclear communications have been the cause of past crashes," aviation analyst Greg Waldron of Flight Global told the BBC. "This is true both of ground to air communications, as well as crew communications in the cockpit." "Meteorological data from the time of this crash suggest there were thunderstorms in the vicinity, with a variable crosswind from the west," Greg explained.
Raj Kumar Chhetri, the airport's General Manager, denied a lack of competence on Nepal's side, telling CNN: "We strictly condemn the comments from the Bangladeshi authorities that Nepal's airport control gave wrong signals."The plane was cleared to land from the southern side of the runway but instead landed from the northern side, he said.
"Our airport control staffs are internationally-trained. We had over-communicated everything to the pilots. We repeatedly asked the pilots to land from the correct side of the runway," Chhetri added. The crash has turned a spotlight on Nepal's air safety record. Before Monday's crash, 44 people died in four incidents in the past five years, according to data compiled by the Aviation Safety Network.
Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Nepal's Civil Aviation Authority, said it was "absolutely incorrect" that aviation authorities had given wrong signals. "The weather was clear. The pilot had minimum five-kilometer visibility. The pilots confirmed that the runway was visible. We have proof of them confirming that. The pilots were not following our instructions," Gautam said.
"The aircraft displayed uncontrolled movement during landing. The alignment wasn't right; it was tilted on one side." He said that incoming and outgoing flights were halted once air traffic control had sensed "abnormal behavior" by the crew of flight BS 211.
When insisted about possible pilot error, the airline's spokesman Kamrul retorted "We do not think that our pilot was at fault as he is not only a very experienced former air force pilot with 5,000 hours of flying record and flew to Tribhuvan over 100 times."
He added, "The captain flew our latest aircraft to join the fleet all the way from Canada."
Nepal is seen as one of the world's more dangerous places to fly. In addition to the mountainous terrain, quick-changing weather conditions add to the challenges for the pilots. Monday's crash was the deadliest in Nepal since a Pakistan International Airlines plane crashed in 1992, killing all 167 on board.
This aircraft was a 17-year-old Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop flying into Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport after a flight from Dhaka. Kamrul said, the age of the aircraft was immaterial as even over 20-year-old ones were operating and all aircraft have Bangladesh Civil Aviation certification.
The survivors were quoted as saying by the BBC that the plane experienced chaotic moment with passengers screaming and seeking God's divine help.
"There was a huge fire outside and smoke gushed into our cabin. Then there was [an] explosion. The fire was extinguished and we were rescued outside," Sharin Ahmed, a 29-year old teacher from Bangladesh told reporters in a Nepalese hospital. "All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang," Basanta Bohora added from his hospital bed. "I was seated near a window and was able to break out."
"The plane was going up and down, right and left, up and down. So I thought that was some air traffic only," added Sanam Shakya, who also had a miraculous escape from the crash that left the aircraft into several pieces.
-Nadeem Qadir with agency reports, AA
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