A plane crash at Nepal’s main airport has killed 49 of the 71 people on board, authorities say, as an investigation was ordered into the cause of an accident that occurred after apparent confusion over landing instructions.
The plane, which was coming from Bangladesh, was flying low and erratically before striking the ground and erupting in flames on Monday.
US-Bangla Airlines Flight BS211 from Dhaka to Kathmandu was carrying 67 passengers and four crew members.
In a recording posted by air traffic monitoring website liveatc.net, the pilot asked for permission to land from the north, which an air traffic controller granted.
Less than a minute later, the pilot said he was ready to land from the south, and the controller cleared the plane to land from that direction.
A separate conversation between the tower and a Nepali pilot added to the sense of miscommunication between the controllers and the pilot of the Bangladeshi plane before the crash.
“Looks like they are really confused,” one man says in Nepali, talking about Flight BS211.
“They appear to be extremely disoriented,” another man says.
Just before landing, the pilot asks, “Are we cleared to land?”
Moments later, the controller comes back on, using a panicked tone rarely heard in such conversations, and tells the pilot, “I say again, turn!”
Seconds later, the controller orders fire trucks onto the runway.
Kathmandu officials and the airline laid the blame for the accident on each other.
The airport’s general manager told reporters on Monday that the pilot did not follow the control tower’s instructions and approached the airport’s only runway from the wrong direction.
“The airplane was not properly aligned with the runway. The tower repeatedly asked if the pilot was OK and the reply was ‘Yes’,” said the general manager, Raj Kumar Chetri.
Imran Asif, CEO of US-Bangla Airlines, told reporters in Dhaka: “We cannot claim this definitely at the moment, but we are suspecting that Kathmandu ATC tower might have misled our pilots to land on the wrong runway.”
Mr Asif added that after hearing the recording between the tower and the pilots, “we assumed that there was no negligence by our pilots”.
He said that the pilot, who survived the accident, was a former air force officer. Captain Abid Sultan had flown the Bombardier Dash 8 for more than 1700 hours and was also a flying instructor with the airline.
Police spokesman Manoj Neupane said on Tuesday that 49 people were confirmed to have been killed and 22 injured. The injured were being treated in various hospitals in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
Autopsies on the dead were being performed at the Kathmandu Medical College and Teaching Hospital morgue, where some 200 relatives waited to hear about their loved ones.