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1 year on from US-Bangla crash: New evidence suggests pilot was unstable

  • Published at 12:45 am March 17th, 2019
US-Bangla Airlines Flight crash
Nepali rescue workers work around the debris of US-Bangla Airlines Flight BS211 aircraft that crashed near Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on March 12, 2018 AFP

According to a full transcript from the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) on the flight obtained by the Nepali Times, Captain Abid Sultan was mentally distressed prior to take off, and was behaving erratically throughout the journey

One year after US-Bangla Airlines flight BS211 crashed in Kathmandu killing 51 people on board, new evidence has emerged that the pilot was mentally unstable, as well as of procedural errors on the part of Kathmandu air traffic control.

According to a full transcript from the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) on the flight obtained by the Nepali Times, Captain Abid Sultan was mentally distressed prior to take off, and was behaving erratically throughout the journey.

The first hint of Captain Abid’s fragile mental condition was revealed when he angrily requested air defence clearance from US-Bangla Operations in Bangladesh, using significant profanity, seemingly without cause.

However, the pilot was calm when addressing First Officer Prithula Rashid, who was on her first route proving flight to Kathmandu.

After take-off, Captain Abid’s behaviour became more erratic as he aired his grievance against another young young female pilot he had trained.

In a lengthy tirade against his former trainee, the pilot disparaged her physical appearance and character, accusing her of promiscuity and speaking ill of her US-Bangla instructors, now that she was at Biman Bangladesh Airlines.

Even as he railed, Captain Abid reassured Prithula that he was affectionate towards her in a paternal way.

Captain Abid, also spoke of a rumour that he and the trainee pilot had engaged in an extramarital affair, which forced him to resign from his post. At this point, the pilot began weeping and asked where he could find another job, admitting that he had not been able to sleep the night before.

He also mentioned matter-of-factly that he had dropped his cigarette and looked for it lest the cockpit catch fire.

On the approach to the airport in Kathmandu, the disoriented pilot asked the first officer to conduct the before landing checklist on six separate occasions, despite her telling him that the checklist had been completed.

An aircraft, as sensitive as it is with numerous factors that could influence its flight and control, was imperiled from the beginning of the landing attempt.

The pilot told the first officer that the landing gear had been deployed, but flight instruments alerted the first officer that it was not so.

When Captain Abid was told of his error, he once again asked Prithula to carry out the landing checklist. And when his first officer told him they  were only 600 feet high, he asked if they could see the runway.

The Kathmandu ATC issued the landing clearance at this point and the flight officer again expressed her alarm at the landing gears not having lowered yet.

Captain Abid asked her to lower the landing gear and carry out the landing checklist again, and again asked if the runway is visible.

The Kathmandu ATC interjected, telling the aviators they were approaching runway heading 20, instead of 02, which they were cleared for.

The pilot replied that he thought he was headed towards runway 02.

Instead of correcting him, the Kathmandu ATC said runway 20 was clear for landing.

The aircraft had already veered off course, and the pilot was under the impression the runway would be on his right, whereas he had flown past it, leaving it on his left side.

As they approached higher terrain, warning systems blared to pull the aircraft up to avoid a crash.

While the warning systems went off, the Kathmandu ATC, seemingly confused at this point, asked the pilot of their intended approach vector.

Captain Abid reaffirmed he would land on runway heading 02, and a technical glitch interrupted the communications, which only transmitted parts of the Kathmandu ATC’s message referring to runway heading 20.

This garbled interruption played a pivotal part as it quashed any effort to clarify communications on the part of both pilot and ground control.

The Kathmandu ATC also seemed to be confused as it again brought up runway headings 02 and 20 in another garbled transmission.

The pilot admitted to making a mistake at that point, but also held Prithula culpable due to the conversation they were having.

The ATC asked them to hold on as another aircraft was on runway heading 02.

Before the Kathmandu ATC issued another clearance, it asked the flight which heading they would finally use to land – 02 or 20 – as both were available.

Captain Abid picked runway heading 20, and confirmed it with the ATC.  However, the communication glitches left them both confused long enough for it to turn fatal.

The aircraft made a tight turn above the runway before coming in for landing at heading 20, but instead of the runway, it approached a clearing used to play football by locals next to the runway.

The Kathmandu ATC repeatedly issued warnings and cancelled the landing clearance, even as the pilot maintained the flawed approach towards the terrain that would in a moment claim their lives.

The severity of the situation had begun to dawn on the first officer, but there was no time for her but to gasp before transmission was cut off.