Nepalese rescuers work after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday. (Source: PTI)

Confusion Over Runway Caused Nepal Plane Crash? 

Nepalese investigators have retrieved a black box from the wrecked Bangladeshi plane that crashed in Kathmandu, killing 49 people, authorities said today. The conversation between the air traffic controllers and the pilot before the tragedy indicated a possible confusion over the runway.

The Dhaka to Kathmandu U.S.-Bangla Airlines flight, with 67 passengers and four crew members on board, caught fire after it careened off the runway and ploughed into a football ground near the Tribhuvan International Airport yesterday.

“The flight data recorder has been recovered we have kept it safely,” said Raj Kumar Chettri, the airport’s general manager, adding that an investigation into the cause of the crash had begun.

The airline and airport authorities have blamed each other for the tragedy, the worst in the country in 25 years, after it emerged that there was confusion over landing instructions.

There were 33 Nepalese nationals on board flight UBG 211, a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400. Others include 32 Bangladeshis, one Chinese and one Maldivian.

Bombardier is a twin-engine, medium-range and turboprop aircraft. Canadian plane maker Bombardier said it was sending an air safety investigator to the site, as well as a field service representative.

The Nepal government formed a six-member committee to probe the crash-landing.

Nepalese firemen spray water on the debris after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday. (Source: PTI)
Nepalese firemen spray water on the debris after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday. (Source: PTI)

A high-level team led by Bangladesh’s Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism M K M Sahajahan Kamal is scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu today.

The last four minutes of the conversation between the pilot and Air Traffic Control at the airport indicates a possible confusion in the mind of the pilot about Runway 02 (the southern end) and Runway 20 (the northern end), a Nepalese newspaper reported.

The Nepali pilots of other aircraft are heard warning the ATC in the tape that the US-Bangla pilot seems disoriented, according to the Nepali Times.

At the very outset of the tape, the control tower was heard warning the pilot, “I say again, do not proceed towards Runway 20.” And later, he is warned to remain on hold and not to land because there is another aircraft on approach.

After the plane apparently takes a right orbit, the ATC asked the pilot whether he wanted to land on Runway 02 or 20. The latter responded by saying, “We would like to land on 20”, following which he was cleared to land on that end of the runway, the report said.

The pilot was then asked if he had the runway in sight, to which he replied, ‘Negative’, it said. He was then asked to turn right, but immediately after that, the Flight 211 pilot said ‘Affirmative’, indicating that the runway was in sight.

The pilot then said, “Cleared to land at Runaway 02”, even though he had sought permission for 20. However, ATC too then cleared him to land on Runway 02.

Meanwhile, speaking to the Army 53 aircraft which was on hold about 10 kilometres away, the ATC said that the Bangladesh aircraft was ‘on final for 20.’

The last recorded words of the pilot were: “[Unintelligible] said sir, are we cleared to land?” After some silence, the clearly alarmed ATC controller shouted, “I say again, turn!”

There is silence for awhile, following which a ‘Fire One’ called the tower, indicating that a crash had occurred and the airport fire tender had been activated.

Nepalese rescuers stand on the debris after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday. (Source: PTI)
Nepalese rescuers stand on the debris after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday. (Source: PTI)

The Dhaka-based U.S.-Bangla Airlines is a private carrier that launched in July 2014 with the motto ‘Fly Fast Fly Safe.’ The airlines is a unit of the US-Bangla Group, a U.S.-Bangladesh joint venture company.

Nepal has witnessed a number of accidents involving aircraft in recent years.

Yesterday’s accident is the deadliest since September 1992 when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it crashed near the Kathmandu airport.