Nepal says pilot error likely cause of plane crash
Updated: 2012-09-30 08:06
By Agence France-Presse in Kathmandu, Nepal (China Daily)
Nepalese firefighters spray water on the burning wreckage at the crash site of a Sita Air airplane near Kathmandu, Nepal. Associated Press
Nepal's aviation ministry said on Saturday that pilot error was the likely cause of a plane crash that killed all 19 on board, including seven British, four Chinese nationals and one Chinese-American bound for Mount Qomolangma, also known as Mount Everest in the West.
The twin-propeller Sita Air plane had just taken off on Friday from Kathmandu and was headed to the town of Lukla, gateway to Mount Qomolangma, when it plunged into the banks of a river near the city's airport around daybreak.
"The pilot's failure to maintain the required radius is a likely cause of the accident," said ministry official Suresh Acharya, adding that the plane turned too sharply because it had not gained enough altitude.
The airport said on Friday the plane's right engine burst into flames after being hit by a large bird, and slammed into a river bank moments later, exploding into a huge fireball.
Acharya said the accident occurred after the pilot made a steep, narrow turn to get back to the airport following the bird strike without attaining sufficient altitude.
A plane does not crash simply because its engine was hit by a bird, he said.
Meanwhile, police on Saturday handed over the black-box data recorder of the plane to authorities probing the accident.
"We have taken out the data recorder and handed it over to the civil aviation authorities. The rescue work at the site has ended," national police spokesman Binod Singh said.
"It has been difficult to identify the bodies and DNA tests may be carried out before they are handed over to the relatives."
The passengers on the plane could be heard screaming inside the cabin but rescuers were unable to get them out as flames engulfed the aircraft.
Witnesses to the crash recounted how they rushed to the scene as the Sita Air plane came down in flames in the Nepalese capital.
"We could hear people inside the aircraft screaming, but we couldn't throw water at the plane to put out the fire because we were scared that the engines were about to explode," said Tulasha Pokharel, one of the first on the scene.
Pokharel, a 26-year-old housewife living near the Manohara River, said she was picking vegetables around daybreak when she looked up and saw an aircraft which looked like it was flying too slowly. "There was a fire near one of its wings and the aircraft's body was shaking. The plane moved toward the river for landing and it had almost landed at the river but it slipped off course and moved toward the land.
"At first, I was optimistic that the pilot could manage to land the aircraft on the water and hopeful that some of the passengers would survive."
But as she realized that the plane was about to crash, she began to fear that she herself could become a victim.
"The pilot tried his best to make an emergency landing. If he had managed it, then we could have rescued some of the passengers," she added.
Television reports showed other witnesses telling of the screams inside the wreckage. Police officer Bhagwan Bhandari, one of the first rescuers to reach the site, said the scene was "terrifying".
"There was fire coming from the aircraft. Red flames were reaching up to 20 meters above the ground," Bhandari said.
A crowd of thousands quickly gathered around the river bank, with many shocked bystanders clutching prayer beads and wailing in anguish as they surveyed the devastation.