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What was pilot smoking in Kathmandu plane crash?

January 30, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email


The pilot of a plane that crashed in Kathmandu killing 51 people was smoking in the cockpit, tried to approach the runway from the wrong end and wasn’t sure whether his landing wheels were up or down.

The plane carrying 71 people on a flight from Bangladesh last March swerved erratically on approach and came in dangerously low, a report into the incident has found.

Voice recording of the conversation, in English, between air traffic control and the pilot before the crash reveals constant confusion and continual discussion of “runway 02” and “runway 20”. The airport has only one runway. The discussion centres on which direction you approach the runway from.

The plane flew very low towards Kathmandu Airport’s single runway before crashing and bursting into flames.

A civil aviation report into the US-Bangla Airlines flight’s last moments has concluded the pilot had been smoking in the cockpit during the flight. The report said the pilot’s emotional state was a factor, ABC News reported.

Smoking in the cockpit is banned. In this case, however, it appears to have been just tobacco that was smoked. The report dismissed any suggestion that some other, stronger banned substance might have been consumed by flight crew while airborne.

The report said the plane’s voice recorder indicated the 52-year-old pilot, Abid Sultan, was disturbed “because he felt that a female colleague had questioned his reputation as a good instructor”.

A garbled recording showed the pilot had “engaged in unnecessary, unprofessional and lengthy conversation even in the critical phase”, according to the report from Nepal’s Accident Investigation Commission. The discussions with Air Traffic Control indicate confusion as the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft came in to land.

Abid Sultan was discharged from the Bangladeshi Air Force in 1993 because he suffered from depression – but was later declared fit to fly civilian aircraft.

Just before the crash, the tower repeatedly asked if the pilot was OK and the reply was “yes”.

The cockpit recording reveals the pilot stated that the landing gear was down before approach – yet during a final landing checklist, the co-pilot mentioned that the landing gear was not down.

The captain and the 25-year-old female first officer were killed in the crash, along with many Nepali medical students returning home from their studies in Bangladesh.

The report has recommended better screening of the mental health of pilots.

Even in the best conditions, the terrain and geography at Kathmandu’s international airport places it among the world’s most challenging.

Coming in to land. Aerial view of Kathmandu Airport, Nepal

Incidents and accidents at the airport, according to a list assembled by Wikipedia, include:

  • 31 July 1992 – An Airbus A310-304, operating as Thai Airways International Flight 311 crashed into a mountain while approaching Kathmandu, killing all 113 people on board.
  • 28 September 1992 – An Airbus A300 B4-203 operating as PIA Flight 268 crashed, killing all 167 on board.
  • 17 January 1995 – Royal Nepal Airlines De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 300 (9N-ABI), flight RA133 from Kathmandu to Rumjatar, had problems getting airborne at Tribhuvan International Airport. The aircraft struck the airfield perimeter fence and plunged into fields. Of three crew and 21 passengers on board, one crew member and one passenger were killed.
  • 7 July 1999 – A Boeing 727-200F of Lufthansa Cargo Airlines, five minutes after takeoff, crashed in the Champadevi hills at the 7550 feet level, when it should have been at an altitude of 9500 feet. All five crew members on board were killed.
  • 5 September 1999 – Necon Air Flight 128 from Pokhara to Kathmandu, a BAe 748-501 Super 2B (9N-AEG), crashed while approaching Tribhuvan International Airport. The aircraft collided with a communication tower of Nepal Telecommunication Corporation and crashed in a wooded area 25 km west of Kathmandu. All 10 passengers and 5 crew were killed.
  • 26 December 1999 – Indian Airlines Flight 814 was hijacked en route from Kathmandu to Delhi. The aircraft ended up in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Indian Airlines suspended all flights to and from Nepal for some time, fearing a lack of security at check-in.
  • 24 December 2008 – A Nepal Airlines De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 300 (9N ABM) ran off the runway during takeoff.
  • 24 August 2010 – Agni Air Flight 101, a Dornier Do 228 aircraft (9N-AHE), crashed into hills outside Kathmandu in heavy rain. All aboard (3 crew, 11 passengers) were killed. The plane crashed near Shikharpur village, 80 km (50 mi) south of Kathmandu. The aircraft had left Tribhuvan International Airport, bound for Tenzing-Hillary Airport.
  • 15 December 2010 – A Tara Air De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 300 en route to Tribhuvan International Airport from Lamidanda Airport, lost signal 162 km (101 mi) east of Kathmandu and crashed. All 19 passengers and three crew members on board were killed. The passengers were Bhutanese citizens and the three crew members were Nepali citizens.
  • 25 September 2011 – Buddha Air Flight 103, a Beechcraft 1900D, struck terrain while on approach to Tribhuvan International Airport. There were 16 passengers and three crew members on board. Initial reports stated there was one survivor, who died en route to hospital. At the time of the crash, the weather was overcast with very low clouds and flights were operating under visual flight rules. The aircraft was on the base leg of the approach following a sightseeing flight.
  • 28 September 2012 – Sita Air Flight 601, a Dornier Do 228, crashed soon after take-off, after apparently hitting a vulture. Sixteen passengers and three crew members were killed.
  • 4 March 2015 – A Turkish Airlines Airbus A330-300 veered off the runway after attempting to land in dense fog. The aircraft had been circling for 30 minutes and was making its second landing attempt, after a previous aborted attempt due to poor visibility. The aircraft skidded into soft grass causing the nose wheel to collapse and the airport to temporarily close to all international flights. All 227 passengers and 11 crew members evacuated the aircraft safely.
  • 12 March 2018 – The crash discussed above, US-Bangla Airlines Flight 211, a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, carrying 67 passengers and 4 crew veered off the runway while landing then crashed on the east side of Tribhuvan International Airport catching fire. 47 passengers and 4 crew were killed.
  • 19 April 2018 – A Malindo Air Boeing 737-900ER flying to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu overran a runway after a high-speed rejected takeoff. The aircraft skidded roughly 250 feet (75 metres) south of the runway end and stopped along a grassy area between two runways. All 132 passengers and seven crew members escaped injury. Damage to the aircraft was minor, and the airport was closed for 12 hours until it was removed. The flight crew opted to abort the takeoff due to a warning indicated the aircraft was not correctly configured.
  • 1 September 2018 – A Yeti Airlines BAe Jetstream 41 (9N-AHW) en route from Nepalgunj Airport skidded off the runway, seconds after touching down. All 21 passengers and the crew of 3, evacuated the aircraft safely without injuries but the aircraft was written off. Slippery runway due to rainfall was reported to be the cause of the incident.

Written by Peter Needham

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