KATHMANDU, Nepal — A survivor of a plane crash near Kathmandu’s international airport said Monday that the US-Bangla Airlines plane began “behaving strangely” on descent before it crash-landed, killing at least 49 people.
Basanta Bohara, a Nepali tour operator, said the nearly two-hour flight from Bangladesh’s capital was uneventful until the plane began to wobble on its descent into Kathmandu, hitting a field near the airport and catching fire.
“Thank God I was able to escape through a cracked window,” Bohara said in an interview at Norvic International Hospital, not far from the airport, where he was taken with several other injured passengers. “I hope I will survive now.”
Authorities said the 78-seat airplane caught fire after crash-landing around 2:20 p.m. Monday and breaking into large pieces. The twin-propeller Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft was carrying 67 passengers and four crew members. A police spokesman, Manoj Neupane, said that 49 people died and that 22 injured were being treated at three hospitals.
Raj Kumar Chhetri, general manager of Tribhuvan International Airport, said at a news conference Monday afternoon that there was a “problem” with the landing alignment of the aircraft and that when air traffic control ordered the plane not to land, “there was no response from the pilot.” The plane narrowly missed hitting a parked aircraft and crashed in the airport compound on the eastern side, he said.
However, the chief executive of US-Bangla Airlines told reporters in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, that a review of the conversation between the pilot and air traffic control during the plane’s last moments aloft tells a different story.
“A three-minute conversation between the pilot and the air traffic control before the landing indicated that they sent wrong signal to the pilot,” CEO Imran Asif said, according to the news website bdnews24.com.
The aircraft had taken off from Dhaka. Officials said 32 Bangladeshi nationals, 33 Nepalis, one Chinese national and one Maldivian citizen were among the 71 people aboard.
US-Bangla Airlines, a private carrier based in Bangladesh, set up a hotline for information on the fate of those aboard its Flight BS211.
At the hospital closest to the airport, Kathmandu Medical College and Teaching Hospital, charred bodies were arrayed on the floor as frantic relatives tried to guess the identities by looking at articles of clothing and other personal items that had escaped incineration.
In the emergency room, a Bangladeshi woman, Almun Nahar Ane, 20, who suffered a leg injury, wept as she said that her husband and 2-year-old daughter remained missing. Their bodies were not among those at the hospital, she had learned. She said her daughter, Tammana, flew from her lap during impact and that she has not seen her since.
“Why is there no information?” she asked despairingly, as she pleaded with passing doctors and nurses to help her find her family.
Witnesses described a chaotic rescue operation at the site of the crash, as emergency personnel and Nepali soldiers pulled survivors from the wreckage and a thick plume of black smoke rose into the sky. The airport was closed for a few hours.
Andrew Blackie, an aviation consultant, pilot and former accident investigator for the British government, said investigators will be looking into all aspects of the crash, such as mechanical failure, weather and operational error. The Canadian-made Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 model has had some issues with its landing gear in the past, he said, but has been involved in only one previous fatal crash, a Colgan Airways crash in Buffalo in 2009 that left 50 dead.
Gowen reported from New Delhi.