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US-Bangla flight 211 probe report: Nepal, Bangladesh investigators differ on crash cause

  • Published at 09:17 pm January 28th, 2019
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File photo: Wreckage of an airplane is pictured as rescue workers operate at Kathmandu airport, Nepal on March 12, 2018 Reuters

Official Nepal probe solely put the culpability on the deceased pilot; Bangladeshi investigator calls out the Tribhuvan International Airport’s air traffic control for failing to perform ‘proper duty’  

An official probe panel, constituted after the Nepal’s worst aviation disaster in 26 years, has put much of the blame on the “emotional” situation of captain of the ill-fated US-Bangla flight 211 while the sole Bangladeshi investigator on the panel accused air traffic control (ATC) of Kathmandu airport of failing to “perform their duties properly”.

Fifty-two-year-old Abid Sultan, a former Bangladesh Air Force pilot, was the flight’s captain.

The final report, released on Monday, read that the captain of a Bangladeshi aeroplane “seemed to have an emotional breakdown” before a deadly crash last March.

The Nepali investigators also blamed the crew’s loss of situational awareness for the crash of the US-Bangla Airlines flight to the Nepali capital from Dhaka that caught fire on landing at Tribhuvan International Airport, killing 51 of the 71 people aboard.

“The pilot [Abid] thought he could manoeuvre the aircraft and land. But he could not,” news agency Reuters quoted panel official Buddhisagar Lamichhane as saying on Monday.

The captain was under stress and “emotionally disturbed” because he felt that a female colleague who was not on board the fatal flight had questioned his reputation as a good instructor, Nepal’s Accident Investigation Commission said in the report.

“This, coupled with the failure on the part of both the crew to follow the standard operating procedure at the critical stage of the flight, contributed to the loss of situational awareness,” reads the report, submitted late on Sunday.

This lack of awareness meant the crew did not realize the deviation of the aircraft, a Bombardier Inc Q400 turboprop, from its intended path, which in turn meant they could not sight the runway, it added.

Having missed the runway, the crew was flying very low north of it in an incorrect position near hilly and mountainous terrain around the airport, it said.

“Finally, when the crew sighted the runway, they were very low and too close to (it) and not properly aligned,” the report added, saying the captain should have halted the landing and initiated a go-around.

The plane skidded off the runway on to surrounding grass, quickly catching fire. Both pilots were among those killed.

The Nepal probe report said Abid was released from the air force in 1993 as he suffered from depression but later was declared fit to fly civilian aircraft. It, however, said his recent medical reports showed no symptoms.

Bangladeshi investigator accuses Kathmandu air traffic control

Captain Salahuddin M Rahmatullah, sole Bangladeshi representative in the Nepali panel and also the head of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Group (AIG) of CAAB, at a press briefing on Monday said the air traffic control (ATC) of the Tribhuvan International Airport did not execute their duties properly and accused the Nepal probe team of hiding this aspect of the incident in the final investigation report.

He, however, did not rule out the findings on the pilot, saying: “The pilot missed the final approach before landing, but the ATC could have assisted the pilot, but it didn’t.”

Captain Rahmatullah said on Monday that two pilots on the ground that day requested the Tribhuvan airport’s ATC to assist the US-Bangla pilot through radars.

“But the ATC did not take any such measures, which could have averted the crash,” he said.

Echoing Captain Rahmatullah’s observation, CAAB Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Naim Hassan said: “The case of pilots losing directions is not unnatural … It happens. And Nepal airport is risky due to the hills around it. The pilot missed the approach, but it was the air traffic controller’s responsibility to help him, which the Nepal ATC failed to provide,” he said.

Landing at Kathmandu airport, which is surrounded by hills, has always been considered a challenge for pilots across the globe.

In 1992, all 167 on board a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it crashed into a hill while trying to land.