By Uttam Niraula in Kathmandu
Authorities have confirmed no Australians were involved in a near-fatal accident at Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport on March 4 that involved a Turkish Airlines plane with 224 passengers on board.
Kathmandu-based Australian embassy’s media officer Bimal Khadka and the airport authorities told southasia.com.au that none of the 224 passengers on board the Airbus 330 were from Australia.
Flight TK 726 was coming from Istanbul and hovered over Kathmandu for half an hour as its front landing gear malfunctioned within sight of the runway, distraught passengers told local media on arrival.
The broken landing gear caused the plane to nosedive and skid off the runway onto rough grassland. Smoke filled the cabin instantly and bags were thrown out of the overhead luggage compartments, injuring a number of passengers.
An online video shows a passenger describing how the plane missed the first attempt to land. “Then the captain announced there were some problems and that we were going to land in about an hour,” the middle-aged man says in the video. But the captain landed the plane after half an hour and without warning, he added.
A number of other videos available on the Internet suggest it was not until the plane landed that the passengers knew what the ‘problem’ was. “We realised how serious the problem was once we touched down and when the plane started shaking violently and things started flying around. Some people started to cry,’ another passenger said.
The plane had caught fire around the rear wheels area when it crash-landed but it was promptly put out by firefighters. A passenger said when the plane came to a halt people rushed to the emergency doors but the air-hostesses would not open the door without the captain’s permission.
The plane was originally scheduled to land at 6:55 am local time in Kathmandu.
Speaking to local media, a passenger thanked the pilot for his presence of mind and strength that led to zero casualties. “It proves the pilot must be a highly experienced one, his priority was to save people’s lives rather than worry about any possible damage to the plane,’ he remarked.
The Kathmandu airport remained closed throughout March 4 as the airport authorities scrambled to move the damaged plane to a safe distance off the runway.
Nepal is notorious for having one of the most difficult airports in the world. The high altitude and foggy winters conspire to make it all the more challenging, even for the most seasoned of pilots.