With no nose landing gear and a crash on the cards, the cockpit crew of a US-Bangla domestic flight to Cox's Bazar kept their cool and landed their Boeing 737 with 171 lives on board in Chattogram yesterday.
Nobody was hurt during the emergency landing but many passengers suffered minor injuries in their haste to get off the plane after it came to a halt on the runway.
Flight BS-141 took off from Dhaka, with 164 passengers, including 11 children, and 7 crew members, at 11:30am.
As the cockpit crew, Captain Mohammad Zakaria and First Officer Abdur Rouf, was preparing to land in Cox's Bazar, they realised the nose landing gear did not extend and lock in place. There are indicator lights in the cockpit that tell pilots that the gears are down and locked.
Kamrul Islam, general manager (marketing support and PR) of US-Bangla Airlines, said the pilots decided to head towards Chattogram's Shah Amanat International Airport as that was better equipped to deal with an emergency.
Hasan Jahir, station air traffic officer of Shah Amanat International Airport, told The Daily Star, “The pilot had a 30-minute conversation over the radio with the control tower.
“He told us that the nose gear of the aircraft was not extending and wanted us to prepare for an emergency landing.
“The pilot, Captain Mohammad Zakaria, was calm and focused when he was talking to the control tower. He was describing the problem very patiently.
“He seemed confident and not frightened or panicked even for a moment,” he said.
The pilot then put the Boeing 737-800 on a holding pattern over Chattogram to burn off fuel so that it was lighter while landing and fire risks were reduced.
The plane eventually touched down at 1:18pm, said Sarwar E Jahan, manager of the airport.
People on the ground took photos and video clips of the landing and posted them on social media. The footages show that after the plane's main landing gears touched down, the pilot held the nose of the plane up for a long time.
He eventually had to gently put down the nose, with no landing gear, a few hundred metres before the aircraft stopped.
Emergency vehicles that had been following the plane since touch down reached the spot in moments.
“Some passengers received minor injuries as they tried to come out from the craft hurriedly,” said Hasan Jahir.
Chattogram Civil Surgeon Azizur Rahman Siddique, who rushed to the airport soon after the incident, said Alia Hossain, 45, who had a leg injury, was hospitalised and 40 passengers were given first aid.
The rest were counselled for psychological trauma, he said.
Pilot Captain Mohammad Zakaria told Jagonews24.com that like any other pilot, he received training on managing emergency situations.
“Apart from training, a pilot has his own technique to apply in an emergency situation and I tried my best to be as safe as possible and I landed the aircraft thinking about the safety of all passengers and crew,” the news portal quoted him as saying.
“One of the techniques is to reduce the fuel on board,” he said, adding that the risk of explosions and the plane dragging along the runway too much is reduced with a lighter fuel load.
PANIC AND PRAISE
When The Daily Star correspondent approached passenger Abdul Qaiyum at the airport for comments, the banker appeared visibly shaken by the incident.
“The plane was circling in the air for around an hour and during this time announcements were being made that the runway of Cox's Bazar Airport was not free and that the pilot was waiting for the clearances,” said Qaiyum, adding, “We thought it was normal and were waiting for the plane to land.”
“Another announcement was made where the announcer told the passengers that the aircraft was going to make an emergency landing and asked the passengers to take off their shoes and to keep the heads down,” said Qaiyum.
“We became frightened ... the announcer asked us to recite the verses of the Holy Quran … the announcer was also heard reciting verses … some of the women and children started to cry at that time.”
“But the landing was not that bumpy,” he said.
Passenger Pulak, who was in a wheel chair, said “Being panicked, I tried to get out hurriedly through the emergency door on the wing and I hurt my leg,” he said.
A passenger said, “I am still in panic and I do not know whether I will be able to fly again.”
However, all the passengers that The Daily Star correspondent spoke to praised the pilot.
“For the pilot, we, the 164 passengers, have gotten out safely from the aircraft,” said Qaiyum, adding, “He did not make us realise the actual danger even minutes before the emergency landing.”
Passenger Mamtaj said, “I want to express my heartiest gratitude to the pilot as he efficiently managed the situation.”
“I cannot even imagine what would have happened if there was a minor fault in decision-making in that situation,” she said.
Chattogram airport was closed for five hours following the incident. Two Chattogram-bound flights from Kolkata were diverted to Dhaka while another to Chattogram did not take off from Dhaka during that time.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh yesterday formed a four-member committee to investigate the incident.
At least 51 people, including 28 Bangladeshis, were killed when a US-Bangla Airlines plane crashed in Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport on March 12.
Mohammed Suman and Arun Bikash Dey contributed to this report.