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Pilot had 'emotional breakdown' before deadly crash: Nepal probe panel

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KATHMANDU The pilot of a Bangladeshi aeroplane "seemed to have an emotional breakdown" before a deadly crash last March, Nepali investigators said in a final report on the Himalayan nation's worst aviation disaster in 26 years.

They blamed the crew's loss of situational awareness for the crash of the US-Bangla Airlines flight to the Nepali capital from Dhaka. The aircraft caught fire on landing in Kathmandu, killing 51 of the 71 people aboard.

"The pilot thought he could manoeuvre the aircraft and land. But he could not," panel official Buddhisagar Lamichhane said yesterday.

The captain was under stress and "emotionally disturbed" because he felt a colleague who was not on board the flight had questioned his reputation as a good instructor, Nepal's Accident Investigation Commission said in the report.

"This, together with the failure on the part of both the crew to follow the standard operating procedure at the critical stage of the flight, contributed to the loss of situational awareness."

The crew did not realise the deviation of the Bombardier Q400 turboprop from its intended path, which meant they could not sight the runway, it added.

Having missed the runway, the crew was flying low north of it in an incorrect position near mountainous terrain, the report said.

"Finally, when the crew sighted the runway, they were very low and too close to (it) and not properly aligned," added the report, saying the captain should have aborted the landing and initiated a go-around.

The plane skidded off the runway on to surrounding grass, quickly catching fire. Both pilots were among those killed.

Citing the voice recorder and the accounts of passengers, the report said the captain was smoking in the cockpit during the flight and "engaged in unnecessary, unprofessional and lengthy conversation even in the critical phase", violating the norm of maintaining a sterile cockpit.- REUTERS