Nepal plane crash: Bangladeshi experts join probe, death toll rises to 51

The Dhaka to Kathmandu US-Bangla Airlines flight, with 67 passengers and four crew members on board, caught fire after it careened off the runway and ploughed into a football ground near the Tribhuvan International Airport on Monday.

Nepal plane crash: Bangladeshi experts join probe, death toll rises to 51
Pic courtesy: IANS

Kathmandu: The toll in Nepal's worst aviation disaster rose to 51 on Tuesday with the death of two more passengers.

The Dhaka to Kathmandu US-Bangla Airlines flight, with 67 passengers and four crew members on board, caught fire after it careened off the runway and ploughed into a football ground near the Tribhuvan International Airport on Monday.

Earlier on Tuesday, hospital authorities confirmed the death of pilot Captain Abid Sultan. His co-pilot First Officer Prithula Rashid died on Monday.

Meanwhile, a Bangladeshi delegation on Tuesday joined a six-member Nepali committee to probe the crash-landing. The Bangla delegation includes Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism AKM Shahjahan Kamal, Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and senior aviation officials, as per Himalayan Times.

There were 33 Nepalese nationals on board flight UBG 211, a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400. Others include 32 Bangladeshis, one Chinese and one Maldivian.

The last four minutes of the conversation between the pilot and Air Traffic Control at the airport indicates a possible confusion in the mind of the pilot about Runway 02 (the southern end) and Runway 20 (the northern end), a Nepalese newspaper reported.

The Nepali pilots of other aircraft are heard warning the ATC that the US-Bangla pilot seems disoriented, according to the Nepali Times.

At the very outset of the tape, the control tower was heard warning the pilot, "I say again, do not proceed towards Runway 20." And later, he is warned to remain on hold and not to land because there is another aircraft on approach.

After the plane apparently takes a right orbit, the ATC asks the pilot whether he wants to land on Runway 02 or 20.

The latter responds and says "We would like to land on 20" and he is cleared to land on that end of the runway, the report said. The pilot was then asked if he has the runway in sight, to which he replies, 'negative', it said.

He was asked to turn right, but immediately after that, the Flight 211 pilot says "affirmative", that the runway is in sight. The pilot then says, "Cleared to land Runaway 02", even though he had sought permission for 20. However, ATC too now clears him to land on Runway 02.

Meanwhile, speaking to the Army 53 aircraft which is on hold about 10 kilometres away, the ATC says the Bangladesh aircraft is "on final for 20".

The last recorded words of the pilot are, "(Unintelligible) said sir, are we cleared to land?" After some silence, the clearly alarmed ATC controller shouts, "I say again, turn."

There is silence for a while, then a 'Fire One' calls the tower, indicating that a crash has occurred and the airport fire tender has been activated.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal did not directly confirm the authenticity of the transcript, saying publication of such exchanges went against the law, Reuters reported.

There were 33 Nepalese nationals on board flight UBG 211, a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400. Others include 32 Bangladeshis, one Chinese and one Maldivian.

Meanwhile,  Bangladeshi airline said on Tuesday its two pilots aboard the plane had both received special training to land at Kathmandu airport and had successfully handled previous flights.

Flight operator US-Bangla Airlines said it was too early to blame anyone. Captain Abid Sultan and co-pilot Prithula Rashid died when their plane crashed short of the runway, broke into pieces and caught fire, officials said.

Defending the pilots, airline chief executive Imran Asif cited the transcript of their radio conversation with ground control in Kathmandu issued by a German air safety website, JACDEC.

"We suspect wrong signals from Kathmandu air traffic control room might have led to the crash," Asif had told reporters on Monday. "A three-minute conversation between the pilot and the air traffic control before the landing indicated that they sent a wrong signal to the pilot."

Bombardier is a twin-engine, medium-range and turboprop aircraft. The Dhaka-based US-Bangla Airlines is a private carrier that launched in July 2014 with the motto "Fly Fast Fly Safe". The airline is a unit of the US-Bangla Group, a US Bangladeshi joint venture company.

(With PTI inputs)

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