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KATHMANDU (Nepal): Photo shows the wreckage of the plane after it crashed near the runway and skidded into a football field.—INP
KATHMANDU (Nepal): Photo shows the wreckage of the plane after it crashed near the runway and skidded into a football field.—INP

KATHMANDU: Forty-nine people were killed when a Bangladeshi plane crashed and burst into flames near Kathmandu airport on Monday.

Officials said there were 71 people on board the US-Bangla Airlines plane from Dhaka when it crashed just east of the runway and skidded into a nearby football field.

Rescuers had to cut apart the mangled and burned wreckage of the upturned aircraft to pull people out, some of whom were buried under the scattered debris.

“Forty people died at the spot and nine died at two hospitals in Kathmandu,” police spokesman Manoj Neupane said, adding that another 22 were being treated in hospital, some in a critical condition.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but a statement from airport authorities said the plane was “out of control” as it came to land.

An airport source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there might have been confusion between air traffic control and the pilot over which runway the plane was meant to land on.

Eyewitnesses said the plane crashed as it made a second approach towards the airport, bursting into flames after coming to a halt in a football pitch next to the runway.

“It should have come straight but it went in the other direction,” said airport cleaner Sushil Chaud­hary, who saw the crash.

“I was worried it would hit another aircraft, but the pilot pulled the plane up. But then it crashed towards the field.”

Nepal Army spokesman Gokul Bhanda­ree said seven of the victims survived the impact but later died of their injuries.

Airline spokesman Kam­rul Islam told AFP 33 of the passengers were Nepalese, 32 were Bangladeshi, one was Chinese and one from the Maldives. Local media reported that many of the Nepalese passengers were college students returning home for a holiday.

The plane was a Cana­dian-made Bombar­dier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop, Mahbu­bur Rahman of Bangladesh’s civil aviation ministry told AFP.

Other sources said the aircraft was 17 years old.

“There might be technical problems on the aircraft. But it has to be probed before making a final statement,” Rahman told AFP.

Kathmandu airport brie­fly closed after the accident, forcing inbound flights to divert, but it has since reopened. It is Nepal’s only international airport and experts say the surrounding Hima­layan landscape tests pilots’ ability to land.

“The landing at Kath­mandu because of the terain is a little challenging,” said Gabriele Ascenzo, a Cana­dian pilot who runs aviation safety courses in Nepal.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2018