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By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters)

At least 49 people were killed on Monday when a Bangladeshi airliner crashed in cloudy weather as it came in to land at the Nepalese capital’s hill-ringed airport, officials said

The chief executive officer of US-Bangla Airlines, Imran Asif, accused Kathmandus air traffic control for giving wrong signals.

But airport general manager Raj Kumar Chettri said the pilot disregarded their messages and came in from the wrong direction.

 

Wreckage of an airplane is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport
Wreckage of an airplane is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport, Nepal March 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Navesh Chitrakar

 

Seventyone people were on board the plane arriving from Dhaka when it clipped the fence at Kathmandu and burst into flames, Chettri said.

There were 33 Nepali passengers, 32 from Bangladesh, one from China and one from the Maldives.

 

Wreckage of an airplane is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport
Wreckage of an airplane is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport, Nepal March 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Navesh Chitrakar

 

“All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang,” one of the survivors, Basanta Bohora, told the Kathmandu Post daily. “I was seated near a window and was able to break out of the window.”

The accident was the latest to hit mountainous Nepal, which has a poor record of air safety. Small aircraft ply an extensive domestic network and often run into trouble at remote airstrips.

 

Rescue workers work at the wreckage of a US-Bangla airplane after it crashed at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu
Rescue workers work at the wreckage of a US-Bangla airplane after it crashed at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal March 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Navesh Chitrakar

 

“So far 49 people are dead and 22 are undergoing treatment at different hospitals,” Sanjiv Gautam, executive director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), told reporters.

Several people were rescued from the burning wreckage of the Bombardier Q400 series aircraft and are undergoing treatment at hospitals, army spokesman Gokul Bhandari said.

 

Shawon, a relative of a passenger who was on board of crashed aircraft of US-Bangla Airlines, visits airline office in Dhaka
Shawon, a relative of a passenger who was on board of crashed aircraft of US-Bangla Airlines, visits airline office in Dhaka, Bangladesh March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

 

Chettri said that moments after the plane received permission to land, the pilot said he wanted to go in a northern direction. Asked by the control tower if there was a problem, he replied in the negative.

The plane was then seen making two rounds in a northeast direction, Chettri said. Traffic controllers again asked the pilot if things were OK, and he replied, “Yes”.

 

Rescue workers work at the wreckage of a US-Bangla airplane after it crashed at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu
Rescue workers work at the wreckage of a US-Bangla airplane after it crashed at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal March 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Navesh Chitrakar

 

The tower then told the pilot his alignment was not correct, but there was no reply, Chettri added.

“The plane should have come from the right direction,” Chettri said, adding that it hit the airport fence, touched the ground and then caught fire.

It was not immediately clear if the pilot had issued a “Mayday” call, or distress signal.

 

 

US-Bangla Airlines’ Asif, however, said that wrong signals might have led to the crash.

“A three-minute conversation between the pilot and the air traffic control before the landing indicated that they sent wrong signal to the pilot,” he told reporters in Dhaka.

 

SERIES OF ACCIDENTS

Many of the bodies that lay on the tarmac, covered with cloth, were charred, witnesses said. Thick plumes of smoke could be seen from the aircraft at the Tribhuvan International Airport.

 

Wreckage of an airplane is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport
Wreckage of an airplane is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport.
REUTERS/ Navesh Chitrakar

 

Those on board include 12 Nepali tour agents who were returning after an annual sales conference in Bangladesh, an official said.

The aircraft that went down on Monday was 17 years old, data from tracking website Flightradar24.com showed. It descended to an airport altitude of 4,400 feet (1,341 m) and then climbed to 6,600 feet (2,012 m) before crashing about two minutes later, the website said.

 

Basanta Bohara, 27, a survivor from the US-Bangla plane crash lies on a hospital bed while undergoing treatment in Kathmandu
Basanta Bohara, 27, a survivor from the US-Bangla plane crash lies on a hospital bed while undergoing treatment in Kathmandu, Nepal March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

 

Bombardier said on Twitter it was saddened by the accident.

“Our thoughts are with those injured, and their families,” it said.

There have been a series of accidents at Kathmandu in the past.

 

Wreckage of an airplane is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport
Wreckage of an airplane is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport, Nepal March 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Navesh Chitrakar

 

In March 2014, a flock of birds shattered the windshield of a Malaysia Airlines jet as it landed in Kathmandu. The same month, a rear wheel of an Airbus A320 operated by an Indian budget airline caught fire after landing.

In 2012, a plane carrying trekkers to Mount Everest region hit a bird and crashed in Kathmandu, killing all on board.

 

A wreckage of a US-Bangla airplane is seen at the crash site at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu
A wreckage of a US-Bangla airplane is seen at the crash site at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal March 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Navesh Chitrakar

 

In 1992, all 113 people aboard were killed when a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok crashed while trying to land in Kathmandu.

US-Bangla Airlines is a unit of the US-Bangla Group, a U.S. Bangladeshi joint venture company.

 

Rescue workers work at the wreckage of a US-Bangla airplane after it crashed at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu
Rescue workers work at the wreckage of a US-Bangla airplane after it crashed at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal March 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Navesh Chitrakar

 

The two pilots and two cabin crew were Bangladeshi nationals, airline spokesman Kamrul Islam said in Dhaka.

“Our team will fly to Nepal as soon as the airport is open,” he added. “We are in touch with Nepali authorities.”

The Bangladeshi carrier, which launched operations in July 2014 with a slogan – “Fly Fast-Fly Safe“, operates Bombardier and Boeing aircraft.

 

(Additional reporting by Navesh Chitrakar; Ruma Paul in DHAKA; Sudarshan Varadhan and Aditi Shah in NEW DELHI; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

 

People stand as smoke rises following the crash of a Bangladeshi aircraft at Kathmandu airport
People stand as smoke rises following the crash of a Bangladeshi aircraft at Kathmandu airport, Nepal March 12, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. NITIN KEYAL/via REUTERS

 

 

Keep reading (more images ahead) …

 

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