Airport opens again after 8 hours
All domestic and international flights were cancelled or diverted following the closure of Nepal's only international airport for eight hours on Friday after a plane skidded off the runway amid a heavy monsoon downpour.
A Yeti Airlines aircraft from Nepalgunj to Kathmandu careened 20 metres off the runway and onto the grass while landing from the Koteshwor side on Friday morning. All 72 people, including two minors and four crew members on board the aircraft, safely disembarked, said Bhim Raj Rai, media manager at Yeti Airlines.
Although the Tribhuvan International Airport said in a statement that three passengers had sustained minor injuries during the incident and were taken to Kathmandu Medical College, a medical officer at the hospital told the Post that the three individuals had flown to Kathmandu for treatment and were not injured in Friday’s incident.
As the aircraft remained lodged on Tribhuvan International Airport’s only runway, the airport was closed down for the day at 11:06 am. As heavy rains battered the country, the airport authorities struggled to tow the turboprop. The plane was finally removed at around 6.45pm and the airport came back online at 7pm.
“As the aircraft ploughed into muddy ground that was full of water, it became difficult to tow the plane in the rain,” said Pratap Babu Tiwari, spokesperson for the airport.
All domestic and at least a dozen international flights were cancelled until 7pm. According to a Nepal Airlines official, its Delhi-Kathmandu flight was diverted back to Delhi, along with flights from Dubai. Outgoing flights to Bangkok and Mumbai were either cancelled or postponed.
“While thousands of passengers suffered, the incident caused massive losses for all airlines, including the national flag carrier,” the Nepal Airlines official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “It will be difficult to clear the passenger backlog.”
The rains, which began on Thursday night, are expected to continue until Sunday. Even with the Yeti Airlines aircraft removed, both incoming and outgoing flights are bound to be affected by the weather.
The country’s sole international airport witnesses more than 350 flights daily, including domestic ones, at this time of the year.
In April last year, the airport was closed for more than 12 hours after a Kuala Lumpur-bound Malindo Air flight, with 139 people on board, suffered a “runway excursion”--when an aircraft veers off the runway--after an aborted takeoff.
Again, in September last year, a Yeti Airlines Jetstream 41 aircraft skidded off the runway, halting all domestic and international flights at the airport for 12 hours.