Runway approach mix-up claim as crash kills 49 in Kathmandu airport
Calcutta: A Bangladeshi airliner crashed at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on Monday afternoon, killing at least 49 people and triggering a blame game in which the astounding claim was made that a pilot may have misunderstood runway "02" as "20".
Seventy-one people were on the plane that, arriving from Dhaka in cloudy weather, clipped the fence at Kathmandu and burst into flames, official said. Several people were rescued from the burning wreckage.
There were 33 Nepali passengers, 32 travellers from Bangladesh, one from China and one from the Maldives.
The Bombardier Q400 series aircraft belonged to US-Bangla Airlines, a unit of the US-Bangla Group, a joint venture. The aircraft was 17 years old. The two pilots and two cabin-crew members were Bangladeshis.
The chief executive officer of US-Bangla Airlines, Imran Asif, accused Kathmandu's air traffic control of sending wrong signals.
But airport general manager Raj Kumar Chettri said the pilot had disregarded the air traffic control's messages and come in from the wrong direction.
Airport sources claimed the pilot sounded "confused".
The southern end of the runway is numbered "02" and the northern end "20". Airport officials said the numbers were quoted for a clear understanding of the particular approach.
"The pilot was given the clearance to approach for landing from 02, or the southern side. Instead, he approached from 20 or the northern side," an airport official said.
"He was asked by the ATC whether he could see the runway. He first said he could, then he said he couldn't, and then again said he could."
Airline CEO Asif, however, said in Dhaka: "A three-minute conversation between the pilot and the air traffic control before the landing indicates that they sent a wrong signal to the pilot."
Additional reporting by Reuters