At least 49 people were killed and 12 critically injured as a US-Bangla aircraft with 71 people including four crew members on board crash landed at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on Monday afternoon and erupted in flames.
The Dash-8 Canadian aircraft clipped the airport fence and landed off the runway after taking an unusual route — North to South instead of South to North. It burst into flames as it was still struggling to get to the track. Sources said there was some confusion between the Air Control tower and the pilot as the latter descended the aircraft on a different runway than on which he was meant to.
It took security agencies and the Nepal army over an hour to contain the fire and rescue the passengers inside. A senior official of the Nepal army said twenty two passengers had been rescued alive and sent for treatment to different hospitals, including the Kathmandu Medical College Hospital, Norvic International Hospital and the Grandae International Hospital, and at least 12 were under critical condition.
Prime Minister K P Oli, who visited the site, said the government would order an inquiry into the cause of the accident. Sources at the airport said the aircraft crossed half of the 3-km runway and then took the unusually wrong direction for landing.
The plane swerved repeatedly as it prepared to land in Kathmandu, said Amanda Summers, an American working in Nepal. The crowded city sits in a valley in the Himalayan foothills.
“It was flying so low I thought it was going to run into the mountains,” said Summers, who watched the crash from the terrace of her home office, not far from the airport. “Suddenly, there was a blast followed by another.”
Fire crews put out the flames quickly, perhaps within a minute, she said, though for a time clouds of thick, dark smoke rose into the sky above the city. The plane had 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 by telephone.
Nitin Keyal was about to board a domestic flight when he saw the plane coming in. “It was flying very low,” said Keyal, a medical student. “Everyone just froze looking at it. You could tell it wasn’t a normal landing.” He said it landed just off the runway, broke apart and burst into flames. “For a few minutes no one could believe what was happening,” he said.
All the flights — both international and domestic — were either diverted or not allowed to operate for three hours after the incident.
Those on board included 33 Nepalese, 32 Bangladeshis, one each from China and Maldives and four crew members. Reports say of the 49 dead, 22 are Nepalis. —WITH INPUTS FROM AGENCIES