Nepal officials have denied any wrongdoing in the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of at least 49 people at Kathmandu’s airport.
The crash happened when a flight with US-Bangla Airlines – a privately owned Bangladeshi carrier – approached the runway from the wrong direction, crashed and burst into flames.
The airline’s CEO, Imran Asif, allegedly blamed air traffic controllers for the incident, stating that they gave out the “wrong signals.”
This claim was refuted by the General Manager for Tribhuvan International Airport, Raj Kumar Chhetri, who denied a lack of competence on their end, saying: “We strictly condemn the comments from the Bangladeshi authorities that Nepal’s airport control gave wrong signals.”
He explained that the plane was given permission to land from the southern side of the runway but instead, landed from the northern side.
“Our airport control staff 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 asserted.
The tragedy placed the spotlight on Nepal’s air safety record, which has seen 44 people perish in four different incidents in the last half decade, according to figures that were made available by the Aviation Safety Network.
In all, 71 people were on board the ill-fated flight BS 211 from Dhaka, which was operated by a 17-year-old Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop. All four crew members expired in the crash.
Sanjiv Gautam, the Director General of the Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority, declared it was “absolutely incorrect” that aviation authorities had issued 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 remarked.
“The aircraft displayed uncontrolled movement during landing. The alignment wasn’t right; it was tilted on one side.”
He added that incoming and outgoing flights were stopped once air traffic control had sensed “abnormal behavior” by the crew of flight BS 211.
The aircraft’s two recorders – the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder – have since been obtained and Nepal announced it would soon report the findings of its initial investigation within a month.
US-Bangla Airlines spokesman, Kamrul Islam, hesitated to pin the blame on any party for now, but said that someone was clearly at fault in the events leading to the fatal crash.
“There was confusion between the controller and the pilot. The black box has been recovered and we are waiting for what it shows … Someone is at fault. We will wait for the investigation to decide that,” Kamrul Islam said.
“US-Bangla Airlines has already dispatched a group of experts to Nepal along with 46 family members, who had relatives on board,” he added.
Forty bodies have been recovered at the scene, while nine perished at the hospital. 22 survivors are currently being given medical care at the hospital.
This most recent accident is yet another blemish in a long line of aviation accidents in the region.
In February 2016, the crash of a Tara Air flight resulted in the death of 23 people. The year before that, a Turkish Airlines jet that had 224 people on board skidded off the runway at Tribhuvan Airport, forcing staff and passengers to evacuate the plane.
“The safety record of Nepal has been a challenge especially because of the mountainous terrain,” said Kapil Kaul, the leader of CAPA India, which is an aviation consultancy.
“There could be many reasons for the crash. There could be an inexperienced pilot, the regulatory oversight may not be good. Further investigation will reveal what has happened. It has to be seen whether it is pilot error or something else.”
“Most of the crashes are in the mountainous region involving small planes. I hope that the government wakes up and gives the highest priority to safety and makes more funds available with the safety regulator,” he said.