The US Bangla plane after the crash with rescue workers scouring the wreckage at Kathmandu airport. Photo: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar
The US Bangla plane after the crash with rescue workers scouring the wreckage at Kathmandu airport. Photo: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

A report in Nepal’s Kathmandu Post, which blamed a Bangladeshi pilot for the country’s worst plane crash that killed 51 of the 71 people on board, has been heavily criticized and called “false” and “baseless.”

With the investigation into the crash ongoing into the horrendous accident at Tribhuvan Airport on March 13 involvingUS-Bangla flight BS-211, various officials and airline staff have slammed the newspaper’s report. The “exclusive” report in the paper blamed Bangladeshi pilot Captain Abid Sultan for the crash.

After an incident involving a leaked tape, in which the Nepalese Airport authority and Bangladeshi airline officials blamed each other for the crash, the report in the Nepali daily has restarted the blame game five months after the crash.

The crash of US-Bangla flight BS-211 was the biggest aviation disaster involving a Bangladeshi airline and the third biggest aviation disaster in Nepal.

The Accident Investigation Commission (AIC) of Nepal called the Kathmandu Post report “unethical and fraudulent,” while officials from the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) termed the report “baseless.” US-Bangla Airlines authorities said the report was “fictitious” and “irreverent”.

The Kathmandu Post, however, claimed it based the report on “details of the official investigation led by the Nepal government,” a copy of which it said had been “obtained exclusively by the Post.”

The Kathmandu Post report

According to the newspaper report, the pilot appeared to have lied to the control tower during the landing and was smoking inside the cockpit during the one-hour flight from Dhaka to Kathmandu.

It claimed the pilot lit a cigarette when the aircraft was less than three minutes from starting its approach to the airport. This, the report said, demonstrated complacency and gross negligence of procedural discipline on the pilot’s part.

The report claimed the pilot made abusive statements to his female co-pilot who had questioned his reputation as an instructor and their relationship was a major topic of discussion throughout the flight.

At one point during the flight, the report claimed the pilot broke down and said he was “very upset and hurt by the behavior of the female colleague” and that “she was the only reason he was leaving the company.” The captain said he wanted to resign before the accident, the report says, but he had not submitted a resignation.

The report also claimed the pilot did not follow instructions from the control tower. When the control tower asked the pilots why they were not holding their position, the pilot allegedly responded: “Holding will not be required in this case.”

At the time, the aircraft had lost its auto-flight guidance system control and strong westerly winds, blowing at an average of 28 knots, pushed the plane to the east.

The tower informed the crew they were clear to land on the 02 side of the runway, but instead the aircraft appeared to be headed for a different runway, according to the report. The report said at this stage, there was a complete loss of awareness of the situation on the part of the flight crew.

Pilot’s state and previous record

According to some reports, the pilot had a history of depression. While in the Bangladesh Air Force in 1993, he had been removed from active duty after a psychiatric assessment. But he was re-evaluated by a psychiatrist on January 9, 2002, and declared fit to flying.

Some of Sultan’s former colleagues told Asia Times that he had been going through tough times before the accident. According to one of his close acquaintances, “Sultan’s mental state was not suitable for flying.”

The Post report claimed Sultan’s detailed medical history was not reviewed by US-Bangla Airlines when he was hired. However, the report added that Sultan did not exhibit any recurring mental issues during medical examinations from 2002 to 2018.

Commission trashes Post report

The Nepali government’s Accidents Investigation Commission said it was concerned by the Kathmandu Post report. Noting that the investigation into the crash was ongoing, the commission said it objected to what it called unethical and fraudulent news.

It called the report a disgrace and questioned why the paper published a story on such sensitive matter which was still under investigation.

Captain Salahuddin M Rahmatullah, the lone representative from Bangladesh in the Accident Investigation Commission, called the report “false” and “baseless.”

“At this point, before conducting the full investigation, I cannot say anything with the assertion,” Rahmatullah said. “But I can tell you that the Post report is premature and could easily draw an inaccurate conclusion.”

Kamrul Islam, the general manager of marketing support and public relations at US-Bangla Airlines, said: “How come a newspaper blames our pilot for the crash?

“We are told that there are still four to five months left before the full investigation is conducted. I think after that we all will be able to know who was actually responsible.”