KATHMANDU: At least 49 people were killed and 23 injured when a Bangladeshi passenger plane crashed in Kathmandu on Monday (Mar 12), an official said.
There were 71 people on board the US-Bangla Airlines plane from Dhaka when it crashed into a field near the airport.
Rescuers had to cut apart the mangled and burned wreckage of the aircraft to pull people out.
"The chances of rescuing anyone (else) alive is slim now because the plane was badly burned," said army spokesman Gokul Bhandaree, who confirmed the deaths.
This is the worst aviation disaster to hit Nepal in years. Airline spokesman Kamrul Islam told AFP that 33 of the passengers were Nepali, 32 were Bangladeshi, one was Chinese and one from the Maldives.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but a statement from airport authorities said the plane was "out of control".
Meanwhile, the CEO of US-Bangla Airlines Imran Asif laid blame on Kathmandu's air traffic control, saying the controller "fumbled" the landing.
"Our pilot is an instructor of this Bombardier aircraft. His flight hours are over 5,000 hours. There was a fumble from the control tower," Asif told reporters outside the airline's offices in Dhaka.
An airport source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there may have been confusion between air traffic control and the pilot over which end of Kathmandu's sole runway - referred to as 'Runway 02' and 'Runway 20' - the plane was meant to land on.
A recording purportedly of the conversation between the controller and pilot has been published online. AFP could not independently verify the recording.
According to an airport spokesperson, the aircraft caught fire after it careened off the runway during landing, reported The Kathmandu Post.
The plane then crashed onto a football ground near the airport at 2.20pm.
Television images showed smoke rising from the crash site.
Eyewitnesses said the plane - a Canadian-made Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprop - crashed as it made a second approach towards the airport, shuddering violently as it lost height before hitting the ground and bursting into flames.
"It should have come straight but it went in the other direction," said airport cleaner Sushil Chaudhary, who saw the crash.
"I was worried it would hit another aircraft, but the pilot pulled the plane up. But then it crashed towards the field."
Desperate relatives searched for the names of their loved-ones on a list of casualties hung outside a hospital where most of the victims were taken. One woman collapsed in tears after checking the list.
Airline spokesman Kamrul Islam said 33 of the passengers were Nepali, 32 were Bangladeshi, one was Chinese and one from the Maldives. Local media reported that many of the Nepali passengers were college students returning home for a holiday.
Kathmandu airport briefly closed after the accident, forcing inbound flights to divert, but it has since reopened.
It is Nepal's only international airport and experts say the surrounding Himalayan landscape makes it testing for pilots coming into land.
"The landing at Kathmandu because of the terrain is a little challenging," said Gabriele Ascenzo, a Canadian pilot who runs aviation safety courses in Nepal.
Depending on the direction of approach, pilots have to fly over high terrain before making a steep descent towards the airport, Ascenzo added.
The accident is the deadliest since September 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it crashed as it approached Kathmandu airport.
Just two months earlier, a Thai Airways aircraft had crashed near the same airport, killing 113 people.
Mountainous Nepal is notorious for air accidents. Small aircraft often run into trouble at provincial airstrips.
A Thai Airways flight from Bangkok crashed while trying to land in Kathmandu in 1992 killing all on board.
US-Bangla Airlines is a unit of the US-Bangla Group, a US Bangladeshi joint venture company.
The Bangladeshi carrier launched operations in July 2014 and operates Bombardier Inc and Boeing aircraft.