Authorities in Nepal have rejected claims they were to blame for confusion before a deadly plane crash at Kathmandu’s airport.
At least 49 people were killed after 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 chief executive officer, Imran Asif, appeared to blame air traffic controllers for the crash, saying they gave out the “wrong signals.”
Raj Kumar Chhetri, the General Manager for Tribhuvan International Airport, denied a lack of competence on Nepal’s side, telling CNN: “We strictly condemn the comments from the Bangladeshi authorities that Nepal’s airport control gave wrong signals.”
The plane was cleared to land from the southern side of the runway but instead landed from the northern side, he said.
“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 added.
The crash has turned a spotlight on Nepal’s air safety record. Before Monday’s crash, 44 people died in four incidents in the past five years, according to data compiled by the Aviation Safety Network.
A total of 71 people were on board flight BS 211 from Dhaka, which was operated by a 17-year-old Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop. All four crew members died in the crash.
‘Tilted on one side’
Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority, said it was “absolutely incorrect” that aviation authorities had given 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 said.
“The aircraft displayed uncontrolled movement during landing. The alignment wasn’t right; it was tilted on one side.”
He said that incoming and outgoing flights were halted once air traffic control had sensed “abnormal behavior” by the crew of flight BS 211.
‘Someone is at fault’
The aircraft’s two recorders – the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder – have both been recovered and Nepal said it would report the findings of its initial investigation within a month.
US-Bangla Airlines spokesman Kamrul Islam declined to comment on who was at fault. “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 told CNN.
“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 were recovered at the scene, nine died in hospital and 22 survivors are receiving treatment in hospital after the crash on Monday.
Poor safety record
Monday’s crash is the latest in a string of recent incidents. In February, 2016, the crash of a Tara Air flight that led to the death of 23 people The year before, in March, 2015, a Turkish Airlines jet carrying 224 people 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,” Kapil Kaul, who heads CAPA India, 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 added.
Manveena Suri reported and wrote from New Delhi. Sugam Pokharel reported from Nepal. Swati Gupta reported from New Delhi. Farid Ahmed reported from Dhaka.