Asia-Pacific

Nepal flight data recorder retrieved in attempt to discover cause of crash

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Authorities will attempt to discover the cause of a plane crash in Kathmandu which killed 49 people, after the discovery of the plane's flight data recorder.

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 says.

The airline and airport authorities 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 which 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 was sending an air safety investigator to the site, as well as a field service representative.

Aircraft burst into flames

The US-Bangla Airlines plane was arriving from Dhaka when it clipped the fence at Kathmandu and burst into flames, said Raj Kumar Chettri, the general manager of the hill-ringed airport.

Those aboard included 33 Nepali passengers, with 32 from Bangladesh, one from China and one from the Maldives.

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.

Rescue teams next to a wreckage of a plane that crashed at the main airport Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal.
A picture taken with a phone shows rescue teams next to a wreckage of a plane that crashed at the main airport Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.
EPA

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 added.

"The plane should have come from the right direction," Chettri said, adding that it hit the airport fence, touched the ground and then caught fire.

Survivor Sanam Shakya, who climbed out of a window of the smouldering plane, said he didn't realise the aircraft was in trouble until it hit the ground. 

"The plane was going up down, right and left, up down... so I thought that was some air traffic only. But I came to know that the aircraft had a problem only when it forcibly landed," the 33-year-old said from a hospital bed. 

It was not immediately clear if the pilot had issued a "Mayday" call, or distress signal.

US-Bangla says landing 'fumbled' 

The CEO of US-Bangla Airlines Imran Asif laid blame on Kathmandu's air traffic control, saying the controller "fumbled" the landing.

"Our pilot is an instructor of this Bombardier aircraft. His flight hours are over 5,000 hours. There was a fumble from the control tower," Asif told reporters outside the airline's offices in Dhaka.

An airport source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there may have been confusion between air traffic control and the pilot over which end of Kathmandu's sole runway -- referred to as 'Runway 02' and 'Runway 20' -- the plane was meant to land on.

 

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