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US-Bangla Airlines Flight 211 was a scheduled international passenger flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh to Kathmandu, Nepal that crashed on 12 March 2018, killing 51 of the 71 people aboard. The aircraft, a 76-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 operated by US-Bangla Airlines, burst into flames after the crash, and the 20 surviving passengers were seriously injured from the impact and the fire.[1] At the time of the accident, it was the deadliest aviation disaster involving a Bangladeshi airline, and the deadliest accident involving the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.[2]

US-Bangla Airlines Flight 211
S2-AGU.jpg
S2-AGU, the aircraft involved, seen in July 2014
Accident
Date12 March 2018 (2018-03-12)
SummaryCrashed on landing due to pilot error and loss of situational awareness
SiteTribhuvan International Airport, Nepal
27°41′33.29″N 85°21′32.03″E / 27.6925806°N 85.3588972°E / 27.6925806; 85.3588972Coordinates: 27°41′33.29″N 85°21′32.03″E / 27.6925806°N 85.3588972°E / 27.6925806; 85.3588972
Aircraft
Aircraft typeBombardier Dash 8-Q400
OperatorUS-Bangla Airlines
IATA flight No.BS211
ICAO flight No.UBG211
Call signBANGLA STAR 211
RegistrationS2-AGU
Flight originShahjalal International Airport, Dhaka
DestinationTribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu
Occupants71
Passengers67
Crew4
Fatalities51
Injuries20
Survivors20
Aerial view of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)

A commission appointed by the Government of Nepal investigated the accident and issued a report that concluded that the probable cause of the crash was pilot disorientation and a loss of situational awareness on the part of the pilots. The report was criticized by the airline and by the Bangladeshi representative to the commission, who felt that the air traffic controllers at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu had not done their job properly and could have prevented the accident.

Contents

AccidentEdit

The aircraft, operating as flight number BS-211, departed Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, at 06:51 UTC (12:51 pm Bangladesh Standard Time) bound for Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal.[1](p1) The flight was a regularly scheduled flight that operates four times a week between the two cities.[3] At 08:10 UTC, the first officer contacted Kathmandu Approach, who instructed the flight to descend to 13,500 feet and hold over a navigational waypoint.[1](p24) Long approach delays were common at Kathmandu due to a lack of airport capacity and high numbers of flights.[4] The pilots expected to spend several minutes in a holding pattern at that point, so they discussed the navigational elements of the holding pattern, and configured the flight management system for the hold.[1](p24) However, before the aircraft had arrived at the target waypoint, the approach controller cleared the flight to descend and proceed directly to the approach for runway 02, instead of entering the holding pattern.[1](p24) The pilots neglected to reconfigure the flight management system for the approach, so when the aircraft arrived at the next waypoint, the autopilot began a left-hand turn of the aircraft as it had been configured for the holding pattern.[1](p25) Realizing that the plane was off course, the pilot quickly changed the aircraft heading selector to a course that would intercept the correct approach, and manually selected a rate of descent.[1](p25)

The crew performed the landing checklist, with the pilot erroneously stating that the landing gear was down and locked.[1](p25) Because of the manual course selection and descent rate that the pilot had selected, the flight management system that would have normally configured the course and the descent was disengaged, and the pilots had difficulty adjusting for the correct rate of descent. The first officer repeatedly called out that they were 500 ft to 600 ft too high on their approach altitude.[1](pp25–26) Meanwhile, a gear unsafe alert tone sounded continuously in the cockpit, unacknowledged by the pilots.[1](pp25–26) With their attention focused on trying to adjust to the correct descent profile, and distracted by audible warnings, the crew failed to notice that the plane was still off course, and had by this time flown to the right of the desired approach path, descending at rates as high as 1,700 feet per minute.[1](p26) Audible warnings of "MINIMUM", "SINK RATE", "TERRAIN", and "TOO LOW-GEARS" sounded, adding to the confusion.[1](p26)[5] The first officer noticed that the landing gear was not down and lowered it, but by this time the aircraft had already passed the runway and neither pilot was aware of it.[1](p26) The tower contacted the flight crew and informed them that they had been cleared to land on runway 02, but they appeared to be heading to runway 20, the opposite end of the single runway, and asked the pilot's intention.[1](p27) Still unaware that they had already passed the runway, the pilot responded that he intended to land on runway 02. Seeing high terrain ahead of them, the pilot performed a sharp right-hand orbit, during which the aircraft descended to as low as 175 feet above the ground, and reached bank angles of up to 35 to 40 degrees, which triggered additional alerts and alarms of "PULL UP", "TERRAIN", and "BANK ANGLE" in the cockpit.[1](p27)[5] After flying to the west without spotting the runway, the pilot calmly admitted to the first officer that he had made a mistake and had become distracted by talking to her, and performed another steep right hand orbit, with bank angles as high as 45 degrees and descent rates of over 2,000 feet per minute.[1](p27)[5]

Eventually, with air traffic controllers on the radio still trying to clarify where the aircraft was going and the plane flying in a southeasterly direction, the first officer spotted runway 20 at the aircraft's 3 o'clock position, approximately 2 nautical miles away, and the pilot made a sharp and abrupt right turn back to the west in an attempt to return to the approach end of the runway.[1](p28) The aircraft overflew the end of runway 20 on a heading of 255 degrees, 450 feet above the ground, turning left with a bank angle of 40 degrees.[1](p28) Alarmed by the actions of the aircraft, the air traffic controller hastily cancelled the flight's landing clearance, erroneously calling out "takeoff clearance cancelled".[1](p28) The aircraft flew over the airport's domestic passenger terminal less than 50 feet over the roof, and controllers in the tower ducked down out of fear.[1](p29)[6] The aircraft made another sharp turn in an attempt to line up with the runway before touching down at an angle 1700 meters along the runway with its right main landing gear.[1](p29) The aircraft skidded off the runway, slid for 300 meters, crashed through a fence on the edge of the airport, came to a stop in a football field, and burst into flames.[7]

AircraftEdit

The aircraft was a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, configured with a seating capacity of 76 passengers, and registered as aircraft S2-AGU.[1](p6) It was first delivered to Scandinavian Airlines in 2001, and flown by three airlines before being purchased by US-Bangla Airlines in 2014.[2] It had already been involved in a minor incident in 2015, when it skidded off the runway in Saidpur resulting in minor damage to its right hand main wheels.[8] At the time of the crash, the aircraft had flown a total of 28,649 takeoff cycles for a total of 21,419 hours and was current on its maintenance.[1](pp6–7) The impact forces of the crash and the post-crash fire completely destroyed the aircraft.[1](p3)

Passengers and crewEdit

The aircraft was carrying 65 adult passengers, two children, and four crew members, for a total of 71 on board.[9] Of the passengers, 33 were from Nepal, 32 were from Bangladesh, 1 was from China, and 1 was from the Maldives.[10] All of the crew were from Bangladesh.[11] 51 passengers and crew members died in the accident; 22 from Nepal, 28 from Bangladesh, and 1 from China.[1](p4) Most of the Nepalis killed in the crash were medical students who were returning home during a break from school.[6] 20 passengers survived with serious injuries.[7]

The captain of the flight was 52-year-old Abid Sultan, a former Bangladesh Air Force pilot.[12][1] Sultan had 22 years of flying experience, with more than 5,500 hours of flight time, and more than 1,700 hours of experience flying the Q400.[1](p31) He had worked for US-Bangla since 2015 and was also an instructor for the airline.[6][10] He was experienced with the flight to Kathmandu, having flown it over 100 times,[13] He had resigned from the airline before the flight, but as part of the airline's code of conduct, he was required to continue working until he had been discharged.[14] He suffered multiple blunt force trauma to his head and chest, initially surviving the crash, but he died of his injuries the next day.[10][1](p15)

The first officer was 25-year-old Prithula Rashid, the first female pilot of the airline.[15] She joined the airline in July 2016 and had a total of 390 hours of flight experience, 240 hours in the aircraft type.[1] This was her first time flying into Kathmandu.[1](p22) She died of her injuries, described as blunt force injury to her head.[16][1](p15)

The two cabin crew members, Khwaza Hossain Mohammad Shafi and Shamim Akter, died after the crash.[16]

AftermathEdit

The plane was engulfed in flames within seconds of the plane's initial touchdown, and airport personnel immediately dispatched emergency equipment.[1](pp15–16) Fire trucks arrived within two minutes and firefighters had to put out a grass fire in their path before they could reach the aircraft.[1](p16) The fire at the crashed aircraft took 15 minutes to extinguish.[17] The airport was closed for three hours after the crash, and incoming flights were diverted to other airports.[18][19] As of March 2019, one year after the crash, the wreckage of the aircraft was still beside the runway at the airport.[5]

22 passengers survived the impact and subsequent fire, and were sent to area hospitals.[19] Two of those survivors later died of their injuries.[17] Survivability was the highest on the right side or near the front of the aircraft, as passengers on the left side were most likely directly killed by impact forces, but the rapidly spreading fire after the crash limited options for escape for the passengers who survived the initial impact.[5][1](p16) Many of the crash victims were burned beyond recognition, and required DNA tests for identifying their remains.[20] At the time of the accident, it was the deadliest aviation disaster involving a Bangladeshi airline,[21] and the deadliest accident involving the Bombardier Dash 8-Q400.[22]

In the following days, Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli visited the crash site and announced that an investigation into the cause of the crash was underway.[18] Imran Asif, chief executive officer of US-Bangla Airlines, told reporters that the company's early opinion was that the crash was caused by air traffic controllers at the airport misleading the pilots, causing them to attempt to land on the wrong runway.[10] He said that he doubted that there was any negligence on the part of the pilots.[10] Nepal Army Lt Col Puran Ghale, who was among the first rescuers to arrive at the aircraft after the crash, complained that aircraft engineers were slow to arrive at the crash site, which hindered the rescue efforts.[4] A spokesman for the airline insisted that the governments of both Bangladesh and Nepal cooperate in the investigation in order to "launch a fair investigation and find the reason behind the accident."[10] Responding to early reports, the airline denied that the doomed flight was the first officer's maiden flight into Kathmandu.[21] In later statements, the airline said that it would cover the hospital expenses of injured survivors and pay US$25,000 to the relatives of each of the passengers who died.[23]

Two days after the accident, US-Bangla Airlines suspended all service to Kathmandu for an indefinite period of time.[24] The airline applied for resumption of its Kathmandu operation, in September 2018, intending to resume flights on October 28, but a source inside the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said it was "highly unlikely" that approval would be granted due to the many critical statements about the operation of the airport that executives from the airline had made after the accident.[24]

Shortly after the accident, a local news agency published a video taken by Kathmandu residents showing the plane flying very low in the vicinity of the airport.[25] In early 2019, a second video surfaced on social media sites that showed CCTV footage from the airport. The second video showed the aircraft narrowly missing buildings and parked airplanes at the airport, and the last moments of the flight.[25]

InvestigationEdit

After the crash, the Government of Nepal formed an Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission to determine the cause and the circumstances of the accident. The six-member commission was also assisted by Captain Salahuddin Rahmatullah, the head of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Group of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh,[26] and Nora Vallée, senior investigator for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada,[27] where the aircraft was manufactured.[1]:foreward

The commission released a preliminary report on 9 April 2018.[7] The report was a brief synopsis of the accident and stated that the aircraft had touched down 1,700 meters down runway 20 heading southwest before going off the runway. It said the cockpit voice and flight data recorders had been recovered and had been sent to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada for analysis along with other aircraft components.[28]

On 27 August 2018, Nepal's Kathmandu Post newspaper reported that a source had leaked details from the still ongoing official investigation. The source said that the commission was planning to assign blame for the crash on Captain Abid Sultan, and said that he was smoking continuously in the cockpit, lied to the control tower during the landing, and engaged in erratic behavior.[29] The airline and the Bangladeshi representative to the commission dismissed the newspaper report as "baseless", stating that the story was filled with false information, designed to make the airline and its employees look bad.[30]

The final investigation report released on 27 January 2019 concluded that pilot disorientation and a lack of situation awareness led to the crash.[1](p40)

When we analyzed the conversation on the Cockpit Voice Recorder, it was clear to us that the captain was harbouring severe mental stress. He also seemed to be fatigued and tired due to lack of sleep — he was crying on several occasions.

— Final accident report by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal

The report also shows that Sultan made multiple abusive statements toward a young female pilot who he had trained, and who had questioned his reputation as an instructor. Their relationship was a major topic of discussion throughout the flight.[6][31] He also spoke of a rumor that he and the trainee pilot had engaged in an extramarital affair, which had forced him to resign from the company. When telling this, he cried and wondered aloud where he would be able to find another job and stated that he had been so worried that he had not slept the previous night.[31] Records show that Rashid, the co-pilot, who was on her first flight to Kathmandu and showed interest to learn at every stage of the flight, was a passive listener to Sultan's story throughout the flight.[6]

The sole Bangladeshi representative on the investigative panel was publicly critical of the final report, saying that it left out the fact that air traffic controllers at the airport did not execute their duties properly. He said that the controllers could have provided navigational assistance to the pilots once it became apparent that they were disoriented, but they did not. He said that if the controllers had done so, the accident could have been averted.[26]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj "Final Report on The Aircraft Accident Investigation of US Bangla Airlines, Bombardier (UBG-211), DHC-8-402, S2-AGU, at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal on 12 March 2018" (PDF). Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission 2018. 27 January 2019. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b "ASN Aircraft accident de Havilland Canada DHC-8-402Q Dash 8 S2-AGU Kathmandu-Tribhuvan Airport (KTM)". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  3. ^ "US-Bangla plane crashes at TIA". Nepali Times. 12 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b Islam, Shariful (23 March 2018). "Tribhuvan International Airport: The hellish gateway to Himalayan havens". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e Dixit, Kunda (8 March 2019). "1 year after US-Bangla crash, fingers point to pilot". Nepali Times. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e "US-Bangla pilot was mentally stressed, reckless: Nepali probe report". The Daily Star. 27 August 2018. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Hradecky, Simon (28 January 2019). "Accident: US-Bangla DH8D at Kathmandu on Mar 12th 2018, landed across the runway and fell down slope". The Aviation Herald. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  8. ^ Hradecky, Simon (4 September 2015). "Incident: US-Bangla DH8D at Saidpur on Sep 4th 2015, runway excursion after landing". The Aviation Herald. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  9. ^ "Nepal air crash: 49 dead as plane veers off Kathmandu runway". BBC News. 12 March 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Gurubacharya, Binaj (13 March 2018). "Nepal plane crash came after confused chatter between pilot and airport". PBS News Hour. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  11. ^ Suri, Manveena; Pokharel, Sugam (12 March 2018). "49 dead in plane crash at Nepal's Kathmandu airport". CNN. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  12. ^ Sharma, Gopal; Paul, Ruma (12 March 2018). "After deadly Nepal crash, Bangladeshi airline defends pilots". Reuters. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  13. ^ Connor, Neil (13 March 2018). "Confusion over path of plane blamed for Nepal crash which killed 49". Retrieved 16 March 2018 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  14. ^ Rabbi, Arifur Rahman (14 March 2018). "CAAB chairman: Nobody forced US-Bangla pilot Abid to fly". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  15. ^ "A life cut short". The Daily Star. 14 March 2018. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  16. ^ a b "US-Bangla crash: Death of Pilot Abid Sultan, 3 other cabin crew confirmed". The Daily Star. 13 March 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  17. ^ a b Gettleman, Jeffery (12 March 2018). "'Save Me, Save Me': Scores Dead in Plane Crash in Kathmandu". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  18. ^ a b Kitching, Chris (12 March 2018). "Plane bursts into flames after crashing near Kathmandu airport 'killing dozens'". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  19. ^ a b "49 dead in US-Bangla plane crash at Kathmandu airport". The Kathmandu Post. 12 March 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  20. ^ "Cause of Crash: US-Bangla, Tribhuvan at loggerheads". The Daily Star. 17 March 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  21. ^ a b Bashar, Reazul; Dhruba, Golam Mujtaba (14 March 2018). "US-Bangla plane crash: New details shed light on confusions at Kathmandu airport". BD News 24. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  22. ^ "Aviation Safety DHC-8-400 Statistics". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  23. ^ Khiam, Sharif (13 March 2018). "Nepal Authorities Pull Black Box from Crashed Bangladeshi Airliner". Benar News. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  24. ^ a b "US-Bangla applies for TIA slot after crash". The Kathmandu Post. 27 September 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  25. ^ a b "Video shows US Bangla plane crashing at TIA". The Kathmandu Port. 6 April 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  26. ^ a b "US-Bangla flight 211 probe report: Nepal, Bangladesh investigators differ on crash cause". Dhaka Tribune. 28 January 2019. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  27. ^ "Employee Directory, Nora Vallée". Government of Canada. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  28. ^ "Preliminary Report of Aircraft Accident Investigation UGB211" (PDF). Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission. 9 April 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 April 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  29. ^ Prasain, Sangam (27 August 2018). "EXCLUSIVE: US-Bangla pilot was mentally stressed and reckless". The Kathmandu Post. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  30. ^ "Nepalese investigators say pilot in US-Bangla plane crash was stressed, reckless". BD News 24. 28 August 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  31. ^ a b "1 year on from US-Bangla crash: New evidence suggests pilot was unstable". Dhaka Tribune. 17 March 2019. Retrieved 7 May 2019.