Confusion over runway approach pre-crash

Left: Family members identifying a plane crash victim at Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu yesterday. Below, left: The wreckage of the plane near the runway of the airport.
Family members identifying a plane crash victim at Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu yesterday. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE
Left: Family members identifying a plane crash victim at Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu yesterday. Below, left: The wreckage of the plane near the runway of the airport.
The wreckage of the plane near the runway of the airport.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE
Left: Family members identifying a plane crash victim at Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu yesterday. Below, left: The wreckage of the plane near the runway of the airport.
MR ASHISH RANJIT

Recordings of conversation between pilot and Nepal air traffic control indicate doubts

KATHMANDU • Recordings show apparent confusion between the pilot and air traffic control over the runway approach at Kathmandu airport as Nepal yesterday began investigating its deadliest plane crash since 1992.

The aviation authorities said they had recovered the flight data recorder from the charred wreckage of the plane, which burst into flames after crashing into a football field near Kathmandu airport on Monday, killing 49 people.

Mr Imran Asif, CEO of US-Bangla Airlines which operated the flight, on Monday said there had been a "fumble from the control tower" as the plane approached the airport's single runway.

But airport manager Raj Kumar Chhetri said it was too early to say what had caused the crash.

"It is yet to be identified whether the pilot or air traffic control was wrong," he said, adding that the investigation would be carried out with Bangladesh.

Witnesses have described how the plane carrying 71 people abruptly changed direction moments before it crashed.

Survivors said the pilot gave no warning.

PANIC BEFORE CRASH

I had asked the air hostess, what is happening, is everything fine? She gave a thumbs up, but I could see she was panicking... It was so low and it took such sharp turns.

MR ASHISH RANJIT, who escaped through a window of the plane.

"I had asked the air hostess, what is happening, is everything fine? She gave a thumbs up, but I could see she was panicking," said Mr Ashish Ranjit, 35, who escaped through a window on the right side of the plane. "It was so low and it took such sharp turns."

Twenty-two passengers - most of them sitting on the plane's right side - managed to free themselves from the burning wreckage by climbing through the windows or were pulled from the fuselage by other passengers and rescuers.

Recordings of the conversation between air traffic control and the pilot appear to indicate confusion over which end of Kathmandu airport's single runway the plane was to approach.

Air traffic control can initially be heard clearing the plane to land from the southern approach. "You are going towards runway 20," the controller is heard saying seconds later, referring to the northern end of the tarmac.

A series of confused messages follow just before the crash in which the pilot is heard saying they will land at "runway 20" and then "runway 02" - the southern end.

Eventually the plane made an attempt to land on the runway it was originally meant to use, but crashed short of it, broke into pieces and caught fire. Both pilots are dead.

Mr Sanjiv Gautam, a senior Nepali civil aviation official, did not directly confirm the authenticity of the transcript, saying instead that publication of such exchanges went against the law.

"We don't know how it got out," said Mr Gautam, director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. "It's illegal for such conversations to be made public."

Airport operations were back to normal yesterday, while the wreckage of the aircraft lay on a piece of ground near the runway, guarded by security personnel.

Kathmandu airport lies in a bowl-shaped valley with the Himalayas to the north, making it a challenging place to land.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2018, with the headline 'Confusion over runway approach pre-crash'. Print Edition | Subscribe