A plane crash at Nepal’s international airport that killed 51 people happened because the captain suffered an “emotional breakdown”, a leaked draft of the official investigation has found.
Investigators said the captain, Abid Sultan, wept during the flight after his skills had been questioned by a co-worker. “This mistrust and stress led him to continuously smoke in the cockpit and also suffer an emotional breakdown several times during the flight,” their report said.
The 12 March flight from the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka crash-landed at Kathmandu airport and skidded into a football field where it burst into flames, killing 51 people in the deadliest aviation accident in the Himalayan nation for decades.
The captain’s constant monologue led to the “total disorientation” of the co-pilot, who was flying the plane when it crashed. Prithula Rashid had only recently qualified and had never previously landed at Kathmandu airport.
The draft copy of the final investigation report, seen by AFP, concluded the US-Bangla Airlines captain was “under stress and emotionally disturbed” after a co-worker had “questioned his reputation as a good instructor”.
During the short flight, Sultan – a former Bangladesh air force pilot who was also an instructor for the airline – talked non-stop as he tried to impress upon the junior co-pilot his competence and proficiency.
Nepal’s only international airport lies in a narrow bowl-shaped valley with the Himalayas to the north, making it a notoriously challenging place to land.
As the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop approached the runway it made a last-minute change of direction, failed to sufficiently reduce its speed and necessary landing checks were not carried out, investigators said.
The report revised the final death toll up to 51, including both pilots. Twenty passengers miraculously escaped the burning wreckage but sustained serious injuries.
Conflicting reports emerged shortly after the crash suggesting confusion between the pilot and air traffic control might have caused the disaster. The report said air traffic control did confuse the two ends of the runway – referred to as “Runway 02” and “Runway 20” – but concluded this had “no impact” on the flight.
A source at Nepal’s tourism ministry, which led the investigation into the crash, confirmed the authenticity of the draft.
Kathmandu : The accident was Nepal’s deadliest since September 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it crashed as it approached Kathmandu airport.
Just two months earlier a Thai Airways aircraft had crashed near the same airport, killing 113 people.
Nepal’s poor air safety record is largely blamed on inadequate maintenance and sub-standard management. Accidents are common and Nepal-based airlines are banned from flying in European Union airspace. AFP