Crash survivors: First chaos, then a 'loud bang'

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KATHMANDU, Nepal: A plane crash survivor recounted how the ill-fated aircraft that was “behaving strangely” before crash near Nepal’s international airport that killed 49, survivor says.

Survivors and witnesses of a plane crash in Nepal have described have described the chaotic moments that preceded when the aircraft went down, killing at least 49 people. 

The flight, carrying 71 passengers and crew, crashed while landing at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport.

Witnesses said there was a “loud bang” and that the plane shook violently while people wept inside the aircraft and chanted.

The cause of the crash — the worst aviation disaster to hit Nepal in years — remains unclear, and an investigation is under way. 

 

Confused chatter netween pilot, ATC 

KATHMANDU, Nepal: “I say again, turn!” the air traffic controller called over the radio, his voice rising, as the flight from Bangladesh swerved low over the runway at Kathmandu’s small airport.

Seconds later, the plane crashed into a field beside the runway, killing at least 49. The pilot survived.

That moment on Monday appeared to result from minutes of confused chatter between the control tower and the pilot of the US-Bangla passenger plane, as they discussed which direction the pilot should use to land safely at the airport’s single runway.

A separate radio conversation between the tower and at least one Nepali pilot reflected the sense of miscommunication.

“They appear to be extremely disoriented,” a man said in Nepali, watching as Flight BS211 made its approach, though it was not clear if the voice belonged to a pilot or the tower. “Looks like they are really confused,” said another man.

North or south?

In the recording, posted by air traffic monitoring website liveatc.net, the pilot and the tower shifted back and forth about whether the pilot should approach the runway from the north or the south.

Just before landing, the pilot asked, “Are we cleared to land?”

Moments later, the controller came back on the air, his voice clearly anxious, and told the pilot, “I say again, turn!” Seconds after that, the controller ordered firetrucks onto the runway.

The plane, which was heading from Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, to Kathmandu, was carrying 67 passengers and four crew members.

Kathmandu officials and the airline laid the blame for the accident on each other.

The airport’s general manager told reporters Monday that the pilot did not follow the control tower’s instructions and approached the 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.

‘Pilots misled?’

But Imran Asif, CEO of US-Bangla Airlines, told reporters in Dhaka that “we cannot claim this definitely at the moment, but we are suspecting that the Kathmandu air traffic control tower might have misled our pilots to land on the wrong runway.”

After hearing the recording between the tower and the pilots, “we assumed that there was no negligence by our pilots,” he said.

He said the pilot, who survived the accident, was a former air force officer. Capt. Abid Sultan had flown the Bombardier Q400 series aircraft for more than 1,700 hours and was also a flying instructor with the airline.

Prior to the crash, the plane circled Tribhuvan International Airport twice as it waited for clearance to land, Mohammed Selim, the airline’s manager in Kathmandu, told Dhaka-based Somoy TV.

Police spokesman Manoj Neupane said 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

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.

Dr. M.A. Ansari of the hospital’s forensic department said positively identifying all the dead could take as long as a week because many of the bodies were badly burned. By late Tuesday morning, four bodies had been identified.

Anita Bajacharya waited at the hospital with her parents and other relatives for details on her 23-year-old sister, a medical student who had just finished school in Bangladesh and was returning home on the flight.

The sister, Asma Shakya, had called her mother from the airport, excited about returning home. Now her family sat outside a hospital waiting for her body to be identified.

Crash probe

Nepal’s government has ordered an investigation into the crash.

US-Bangla spokesman Kamrul Islam said the plane was carrying 32 passengers from Bangladesh, 33 from Nepal and one each from China and the Maldives.

He did not provide the nationalities of the four crew members.

US-Bangla operates Boeing 737-800 and smaller Bombardier Dash 8 planes, including the Q400, the model that crashed.

The airline is based in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, and flies domestically and internationally. The parent company, part of US-Bangla Group, is also involved in real estate, education and agriculture.

Kathmandu’s airport has been the site of several deadly crashes. In September 2012, a Sita Air turboprop plane carrying trekkers to Mount Everest hit a bird and crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 19 people on board. — AP

Emergency landing sends passengers leaping from wing of Southwest jet

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: A Dallas-bound flight made an emergency landing at Albuquerque International Sunport, sending panicked passengers leaping from a wing onto the tarmac after crew members screamed at them to get away from the aircraft, passengers and officials said.

Southwest Flight 3562 took off from Phoenix on Sunday night and was headed for Dallas Love Field. About an hour later, the crew noticed an unusual smell in the cabin, the airline said in a statement.

Passengers said they could feel heat from the vents shortly before the crew said the plane was going to make an emergency landing. Passengers were told to brace as the plane landed.

“I sent a couple texts out to loved ones that you just don’t really want to have to send out,” Brandon Cox said.

He said it was an 8-foot (2.44-meter) jump to the tarmac from the wing.

“I hit the ground really hard and was just shell-shocked that I just had to jump off the wing of an airplane,” he said.

Video he posted on Twitter showed people using a slide connected to another emergency exit. A crewmember can be heard shouting, “Move away from the aircraft now!”

Passenger David Fleck said he was surprised to discover there were no emergency slides near the exit door over the wing.

“It felt wrong when you’re up there. It was dark, cold and rainy,” he said. “It was disorienting. (You think), ‘Do I really just jump down?'”

The Albuquerque Fire Department tweeted that two people were taken to hospitals. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

A Dallas police officer aboard the flight tweeted that flight attendants “did a great job!”

Southwest said it worked to get passengers onboard another flight to Dallas, and aircraft will remain in Albuquerque where mechanics will inspect it.

Flight data recorder retrieved from wreckage 

KATHMANDU: Investigators have retrieved the flight data recorder from the wreckage of a US-Bangla Airlines passenger plane that crashed, killing at least 49 people on board, as it attempted to land at Kathmandu, a senior airport official in Nepal’s capital said on Tuesday.

The airline and airport authorities have blamed each other in the aftermath of Monday’s aviation disaster, the worst suffered by the Himalayan country since a 1992 Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) crash that claimed 167 lives.

“The flight data recorder has been recovered we have kept it safely,” said Raj Kumar Chettri, the airport’s general manager, adding that an investigation into the cause the crash had begun.

The US-Bangla plane involved in the crash was a Bombardier Q400 series aircraft. It was carrying 71 people and was en route from Dhaka.

Canadian plane maker Bombardier said it is sending an air safety investigator to the site, as well as a field service representative. — Reuters

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