Photo credit: South China Morning Post
Photo credit: South China Morning Post
Photo credit: South China Morning Post

Kathmandu: As many as 49 people were killed and 22 injured when a passenger plane of the US-Bangla Airlines, flying to Kathmandu from Dhaka, with 71 on board crash-landed and exploded into a ball of flame at Nepal’s main airport here on Monday.

Nepal Police spokesperson Manoj Neupane confirmed the death toll. The 78-seater Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft caught fire after it skidded off the runway at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) while landing and crashed onto a field apparently due to technical glitches.

Of the 71 people, four were crew members, 33 were Nepalis, 32 Bangladeshis, one Chinese and one Maldivian national, said TIA spokesperson Prem Nath Thakur.

Neupane said 31 bodies were pulled out from the wreckage of the crashed plane while 18 others others died in hospitals.

All flights in and out of the TIA were cancelled. The airport was reopened later.

Raj Kumar Chettri, General Manager of TIA, said the aircraft spun out of control when it entered the Kathmandu Valley and was seen swinging when it attempted to land on the runway.

He said the horrific accident took place after the pilot took an opposite direction to descend the plane, not obeying the instructions of the Air Traffic Controller (ATC).

“Our ATC permitted the aircraft to land from the southern side of the runway but it changed its route and attempted to land from northern side,” said Chettri. He called it the “main reason behind the accident”.

The aircraft narrowly went past a Thai Airways aircraft parked on the runway, he said.

Photos and videos posted on social media showed smoke rising from the runway. Witnesses said the plane crashed when trying to take a sharp turn.

“I saw the plane make a sharp turn over the terminal back towards south and then disappeared towards the runway. Then immediately a large plume of smoke was seen,” said Arnico Pandey, adding that the plane was flying very low, just enough to be above the control tower.

A survivor, Nepalese travel agent Basanta Bohora, recounted from his hospital bed his miraculous escape.

After a normal take-off from Dhaka, the plane began to behave strangely as it approached Kathmandu, he said.

“All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang,” he was quoted as saying by the Kathmandu Post.

“I was seated near the window and was able to break out of the window.

“I have no recollection after I got out of the plane. Someone took me to Sinamangal Hospital and from there my friends brought me to Norvic (Hospital). I have received injuries to my head and legs, but I am fortunate that I survived the ordeal.”

Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli said he was “extremely shocked” by news of the crash and promised an immediate government investigation.

The US-Bangla Airlines is a privately-owned Bangladeshi airline headquartered in Dhaka.

This is the most severe air crash at Kathmandu’s main airport after a Turkish Airlines flight crash-landed in March 2015.