Turkish plane skids off runway in Kathmandu, airport closed

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Kathmandu: All 224 passengers on board a Turkish Airlines flight had a narrow escape when their Airbus A330 aircraft skidded off the runway at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) here early today morning. The terminal, Nepal’s only international airport, was ordered shut till 4 p.m. on Thursday as the airport does not have equipment to relocate the aircraft from the runway, authorities said.

The Turkish passenger jet, while landing at TIA — where torrential rains for the last three days have rendered the weather foggy and visibility poor — missed the central alignment of the runway and skidded on to the adjacent grassy surface around 7.45 a.m. on Wednesday.

The front gear of the aircraft collapsed upon landing and the airbus skidded for at least 1,000 metres on the grassy verge before coming to a stop.

“The plane skidded for at least 1,000 metres,” said a statement issued by the TIA authorities adding that foam extinguishers were used to prevent any damage.

All 235 people, including 224 passengers, aboard the Turkish Airlines flight TK-757 from Istanbul were evacuated through the emergency doors. Besides 11 crew members, there were also an infant on the flight. Images of the aircraft circulating on social networking site Twitter showed the plane lying on the grassy surface near the airport fire station with its nose resting on the ground.

Before being given permission to land, the Turkish passenger jet was told to circle for almost an hour due to poor ground visibility.

The decision to shut flight operations at TIA till the damaged aircraft was removed from the runway affected travel plans of several thousand passengers bound for international destinations, including New Delhi, who were planning to fly out Wednesday from here.

Nepal does not have cranes powerful enough to remove a large plane like the Airbus from the runway, TIA officials told IANS.

They said that officials here were trying to approach the Indian authorities to bring a crane of the Indian Air Force that can only land on a 5,000-meter long runway but the problem is the TIA runway is only 3,000 meters long.

It will only be possible to relocate the aircraft from the runway if the pilot of the Indian Air Force dares to land on such a small runway, the officials added.

Otherwise either we have to remove the tyres of the plane and also the nose of the aircraft that is directed to the runway side obstructing taxing space for other flights, they explained.

Over 10,000 outbound passengers who were all set to fly to their respective destinations abroad were badly hit. About the same number of inbound passengers were also affected by the cancellation of the flights.

At least 27 airlines have relocated their passengers to various hotels due to the cancellation of the flights.

Kathmandu airport handles at least 35 outbound flights a day on an average and receives the same number of international flights.

Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Spice Jet cancelled their flights along with Druk Airlines of Bhutan, Thai Airways and Air China.

Flights of Air Arabia, Nepal Airlines, Qatar Air, Malaysian Airlines and Biman Bangladesh from Kathmandu stood delayed. All domestic airlines were also forced to reschedule their flights.

The Turkish Airlines incident created panic among the passengers on board, Shashi Poudel, one of the passengers travelling from Turkey, told reporters after he was safely evacuated from the stricken craft.

“After the plane skidded on to the grassy surface, there was a flame at the rear of the plane and we had almost lost all hope. But the pilot made a very clever decision reverting the plane on the grass, otherwise one can’t imagine what would have happened,” he said.

One passenger, reportedly a heart patient, was rushed to a nearby hospital while some others sustained minor injuries.

“I think the pilot did a great job,” another passenger, Dilkesh Malhotra, said. “When I looked out of the plane, I could see nothing because of the dense fog. It was an extremely scary situation and to fly a plane in such conditions must have been extremely challenging. I am glad no one was seriously hurt.”

Turkish Airlines, meanwhile, issued a statement on Wednesday and made public its position over the incident.

“Turkish Airlines Istanbul-Kathmandu flight A330 type aircraft, carrying 223 passengers with one infant and 11 crew on board slid off runway after landing to Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu at 02.02 UTC (7.45 a.m.), on 4th March 2015,” the statement said.

All of our passengers and crew have been safely evacuated and taken to the terminal, said the statement, adding that one of our passengers was slightly injured and sent to the hospital to be treated.

“Necessary precautions have been taken for towing the aircraft out of its current place and the relevant work on that issue has started. The technical examination will determine the cause of the incident,” said the statement.

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