A plane crash at Nepal’s busiest airport which killed at least 49 people was being blamed on confusion over which direction the Bangladeshi airliner should have approached the runway on landing.
Details of anxious chatter between the pilot and the control tower at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport emerged as survivors of Monday’s crash gave harrowing details of the disaster.
The airline and airport authorities have blamed each other in the aftermath of Nepal’s worst aviation disaster since the crash of a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) aircraft in 1992 killed 167.
In recordings posted online, the pilot and the tower shifted back and forth about whether the pilot should approach the runway from the north or the south.
“Are we cleared to land?” asked the pilot, as the Bombardier Q400 series aircraft, which was carrying 71 people, approached the runway.
“I say again, turn!” said the controller, moments before the crash, according to the Associated Press.
The airport’s general manager, Raj Kumar Chetri, said the pilot had approached the runway from the wrong direction.
“The airplane was not properly aligned with the runway,” he said. “The tower repeatedly asked if the pilot was OK and the reply was ‘Yes,'”
Imran Asif, CEO of US-Bangla Airlines, which is based in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, offered a conflicting account.
“We are suspecting that the Kathmandu air traffic control tower might have misled our pilots to land on the wrong runway,” he said.
Captain Abid Sultan had landed more than 100 times at Kathmandu and had more than 5,000 hours of flying experience.
The plane, which was on route from Dhaka, crashed short of the runway before breaking into pieces and catching fire.
Survivors began to speak of their ordeal on Tuesday.
“All of a sudden the plane shook violently and there was a loud bang,” Basanta Bohora said. “I was seated near a window and was able to break out.”
Others also described the moment of impact from their hospital beds.
“There was a huge fire outside and smoke gushed into our cabin. Then there was [an] explosion,” Sharin Ahmed, a 29-year old teacher from Bangladesh told the BBC.