Pilot ignored Kathmandu ATC's orders; survivors onboard Nepal plane say crash sounded like 'bomb went off'

One of the worst air disasters in 30 years of Nepal's history claimed 49 lives out of 71 onboard on Monday. The plane coming from Bangladesh swerved erratically and flew dangerously low before crashing and erupting in flames Monday. US-Bangla Airlines flight BS211 from Dhaka to Kathmandu was carrying 67 passengers and four crew members.

Witnesses and survivors recounted horrific details of the horrifying crash. A Reuters photographer said he could see bodies covered in cloth laid out near the tarmac of the airport. "All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang," one of the survivors, Basanta Bohora, told the Kathmandu Post daily. "I was seated near a window and was able to break out of the window."

Sanam Shakya, a survivor from the US-Bangla plane crash, speaks with his father as his mother sits next to him. Reuters

Sanam Shakya, a survivor from the US-Bangla plane crash, speaks with his father as his mother sits next to him. Reuters

Another survivor, Sanam Shakya, who climbed out of a window of the smouldering plane, told AFP 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.

"The Nepali people were saying, ‘Bachaau, bachaau,’ which means ‘Save me, save me,’" The New York Times quoted army rescuer Balkrishna Upadhyay as saying. "The Bangladeshis were screaming out in English: ‘Help me, please help me.'...It was horrible," Upadhyay further said.

"It (the plane crash) sounded like a bomb went off," the report quoted Kailash Adhikari, a driver for a fuel company working at the airport, as saying. Adhikari also said that it took 15 minutes for firefighters to control the situation. Other crew members said that if the firefighters had arrived earlier, more people could have been saved.

Desperate relatives searched for the names of their loved-ones on a list of casualties hung outside a hospital where most of the victims were taken. One woman collapsed in tears after checking the list.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "deeply anguished" by the plane crash.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday spoke to her Bangladeshi counterpart Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali and expressed deepest condolences over the loss of lives.

Cause of the crash

The chief executive officer of US-Bangla Airlines, Imran Asif, accused Kathmandu’s air traffic control for giving wrong signals, reported Reuters. But airport general manager Raj Kumar Chettri said the pilot disregarded their messages and came in from the wrong direction. 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.

Chettri added that the plane "was not properly aligned with the runway." He said the tower repeatedly asked if the pilot was OK, and the reply was "yes." A recording of conversations between the pilot and air traffic controllers indicated confusion over which direction the plane should land.

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. It was not immediately clear if the pilot had issued a“Mayday” call, or distress signal. US-Bangla Airlines’ Asif, however, said that wrong signals might have led to the crash.

“A three-minute conversation between the pilot and the air traffic control before the landing indicated that they sent wrong signal to the pilot,” he told reporters in Dhaka.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2018 09:31 AM

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