At least 46 people were killed as an aircraft of Bangladesh’s private US Bangla Airlines crashed and burst into flames while landing at Kathmandu with 71 people onboard, 67 being passengers, officials and reports said.
“According to our information 45 people who were on the flight were killed . . . 10 are missing,” state minister for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam told a media briefing in here yesterday.
International wire services Reuters and AFP, however, quoted the casualty figures as 50 and 49 respectively and said several people were rescued from the burning wreckage of the Bombardier Dash Q400 series aircraft.
“We have recovered 50 dead bodies so far,” Reuters quoted army spokesman Gokul Bhandari as saying while AFP said 40 people died at the spot and nine died at two hospitals in Kathmandu while another 22 were being treated in hospital, some in a critical condition.
Nepal authorities called out army for the rescue operations at the scene while a spokesman of theirs said “the chances of rescuing anyone (else) alive are slim now because the plane was badly burned”.
Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 said the plane crashed at 2:20 local time (2:50BST) on a football pitch to the east of the runway at Tribhuvan International Airport as the plane veered off the runway while landing.
The Sweden-based monitor said the plane was a 17-year-old Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop.
Television images showed plumes of black smoke rising from the crash site as the rescue vehicles rushed to the scene while Nepalese media reported that all flights in and out of Nepal’s only international airport were cancelled for hours after the accident.
Bangladesh embassy in Nepal, meanwhile, said 17 injured passengers of the crashed plane were being treated at different hospitals of Nepal and added that it opened a hotline and for any information two embassy officials would be available.
The officials are counselor Mohammad Al Alamul Emam and first secretary Asit Baran Sarker having mobile numbers +9779810100401 and +9779861467422.
US-Bangla officials in Dhaka said there were 67 passengers and four crew onboard the Kathmandu-bound plane from Dhaka, while their records suggested 36 of them including the crew were Bangladeshis while 33 were Nepalese.
“Of the rests one was Maldivians and one was Chinese,” US-Bangla general manager Kamrul Islam told newsmen at the Baridhara office of the airlines, which appeared as Bangladesh’s largest private airlines operating in seven international destinations with eight aircraft.
US-Bangla Airlines chief executive officer Imran Asif said the flight recorder or black box was recovered, which would the most crucial equipment in unearthing the reasons behind the accident.
Bangladesh’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAAB) chairman Air Vice Marshal M Naim Hassan told a media briefing that they constituted a three-member investigation committee incorporating a doctor.
“We are in constant touch with Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority,” he said adding that Bangladesh’s army, navy and air force were ready to be called out anytime if required for the rescue campaign in Kathmandu.
CAAB officials later said the team by now reached Kathmandu as the Tribhuvan airport was opened for air traffic.
International media reports said rescuers had to cut apart the mangled and burned wreckage of the upturned aircraft to pull people out, some of whom were buried under the scattered debris.
Kathmandu airport authorities, meanwhile, issued a statement saying the plane was “out of control” as it came in to land while officials there said there might have been confusion between air traffic control and the pilot over which runway the plane was meant to land on.
Hill-ringed Tribhuvan Airport’s general manager Raj Kumar Chettri said that moments after the plane received permission to land, the pilot said he wanted to go in a northern direction. Asked by the control tower if there was a problem, he replied in the negative.
The plane was then seen making two rounds in a northeast direction, Chettri said. Traffic controllers again asked the pilot if things were OK, and he replied, “Yes”.
The tower then told the pilot his alignment was not correct, but there was no reply, Chettri said.
But the US-Bangla Airlines CEO suspected the confusing directions from the control tower might have caused the crash.
“Bangladesh will extend all cooperation to the Nepalese authorities in carrying out the investigations . . . it will be investigated if the accident took place because of the fault on our part (US-Bangla airlines) or theirs (Nepal’s aviation authority),” Maya said.
One of the survivors, Nepalese travel agent Basanta Bohora, described from his hospital bed what he had experienced saying after a normal take-off from Dhaka, the plane had begun to behave strangely as it approached Kathmandu.
“All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang . . . I was seated near a window and was able to break out of the window,” Bohora told the Kathmandu Post daily.
International media reports, meanwhile, said Nepal suffered a number of air disasters in recent years, dealing a blow to its tourist industry while its poor air safety record is blamed largely on inadequate maintenance, inexperienced pilots and substandard management.