Nepal begins probe of deadly crash

LEAKED::A conversation between the pilots and ground control was made public, raising doubts over whether the controllers sent a wrong signal that led to the crash


Wed, Mar 14, 2018 - Page 5

Investigators have retrieved the flight data recorder from the wreckage of a Bangladeshi airliner that crashed on Monday, killing at least 49 aboard, including the crew, when it attempted to land in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, officials said yesterday.

The airline and airport authorities in Kathmandu have blamed each other in the aftermath of the aviation disaster, the Himalayan nation’s worst since the 1992 crash of a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft killed 167.

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

The Bombardier Q400 series aircraft was carrying 71 people from the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka when it tried to land in conditions of visibility that weather officials said exceeded 6km, with clouds at one end of the runway and a light tailwind of 6 to 7 knots.

Flight operator US-Bangla Airlines said captain Abid Sultan, a former pilot of the Bangladesh Air Force, had landed more than 100 times at Kathmandu, where wind shear and bird hits are frequent hazards.

Sultan had more than 5,000 hours of flying experience and was specially trained to land at the airport, airline spokesman Kamrul Islam said.

The airline also denied a media report that the aircraft had skidded off the runway during a domestic flight in 2015, saying it “never ever encountered any accident. It had no technical glitches.”

Defending the pilots, airline chief executive Imran Asif cited a transcript of their radio conversation with ground control in Kathmandu that was issued by a German air safety Web site, JACDEC.

“We suspect wrong signals from Kathmandu air traffic control room might have led to the crash,” Asif told reporters on Monday. “A three-minute conversation between the pilot and the air traffic control before the landing indicated that they sent a wrong signal to the pilot.”

The transcript, which Asif said was accessible on YouTube, reveals confusion over the runway designated for the flight to land.

Transmissions by the Kathmandu tower controller show that, despite being cleared to land on runway 02, the flight began deviating from its course.

The captain and the tower controller discussed which runway the aircraft was aiming for, the Web site said.

At one point, the controller told the copilot she was heading toward runway 20, although the aircraft had been cleared for runway 02.

Later, the captain took over the conversation and confirmed the plan to land at runway 02.

However, at one stage, ground control said runway 20 had also been cleared for landing.

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.

Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal Director-General Sanjiv Gautam 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,” Gautam said. “It’s illegal for such conversations to be made public.”