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Nepal crash followed apparent confusion over plane’s path

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  • KATHMANDU, Nepal — “I say again, turn!” the air traffic controller called over the radio, his voice rising, as the flight from Bangladesh swerved low over the runway at Kathmandu’s small airport.

    Seconds later, the plane crashed into a field beside the runway, erupting in flames and leaving 50 of the 71 people on board dead.

    That moment Monday appeared to result from minutes of confused chatter between the control tower and the pilot of the US-Bangla passenger plane, as they discussed which direction the pilot should use to land safely at the airport’s single runway.

    A separate radio conversation between the tower and at least one Nepali pilot reflected the sense of miscommunication.

    “They appear to be extremely disoriented,” a man said in Nepali, watching as Flight BS211 made its approach, though it was not clear if the voice belonged to a pilot or the tower. “Looks like they are really confused,” said another man.

    In the recording, posted by air traffic monitoring website liveatc.net, the pilot and the tower shifted back and forth about whether the pilot should approach the runway from the north or the south.

    Just before landing, the pilot asked, “Are we cleared to land?”

    Moments later, the controller came back on the air, his voice clearly anxious, and told the pilot, “I say again, turn!” Seconds after that, the controller ordered firetrucks onto the runway.

    The plane, which was heading from Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, to Kathmandu, was carrying 67 passengers and four crew members.

    Kathmandu officials and the airline laid the blame for the accident on each other.

    The airport’s general manager told reporters Monday that the pilot did not follow the control tower’s instructions and approached the runway from the wrong direction.

    “The airplane was not properly aligned with the runway. The tower repeatedly asked if the pilot was OK and the reply was ‘Yes,'” said the general manager, Raj Kumar Chetri.

    But Imran Asif, CEO of US-Bangla Airlines, told reporters in Dhaka that “we cannot claim this definitely at the moment, but we are suspecting that the Kathmandu air traffic control tower might have misled our pilots to land on the wrong runway.”

    After hearing the recording between the tower and the pilots, “we assumed that there was no negligence by our pilots,” he said.

    He said the pilot, who initially survived the accident but succumbed to his injuries Tuesday, was a former air force officer. Capt. Abid Sultan had flown the Bombardier Q400 series aircraft for more than 1,700 hours and was also a flying instructor with the airline.

    Prior to the crash, the plane circled Tribhuvan International Airport twice as it waited for clearance to land, Mohammed Selim, the airline’s manager in Kathmandu, told Dhaka-based Somoy TV.

    Police spokesman Manoj Neupane said Tuesday that 49 people were confirmed to have been killed and 22 injured. The injured were being treated in various hospitals in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.

    Autopsies on the dead were being performed at the Kathmandu Medical College and Teaching Hospital morgue, where some 200 relatives waited to hear about their loved ones.

    Dr. M.A. Ansari of the hospital’s forensic department said positively identifying all the dead could take as long as a week because many of the bodies were badly burned. By late Tuesday morning, four bodies had been identified.

    Anita Bajacharya waited at the hospital with her parents and other relatives for details on her 23-year-old sister, a medical student who had just finished school in Bangladesh and was returning home on the flight. The sister, Asma Shakya, had called her mother from the airport, excited about returning home. Now her family sat outside a hospital waiting for her body to be identified.

    Relatives of the passengers from Bangladesh arrived in Kathmandu late Tuesday afternoon and were escorted to the hospital by airline officials.

    Nepal’s government has ordered an investigation into the crash. However, Mohammed Kamrul Islam, a spokesman for US-Bangla Airlines, said the governments of both Nepal and Bangladesh need to “launch a fair investigation and find the reason behind the accident.”

    According to the airline, the plane was carrying 32 passengers from Bangladesh, 33 from Nepal and one each from China and the Maldives. It did not provide the nationalities of the four crew members.

    US-Bangla operates Boeing 737-800 and smaller Bombardier Dash 8 planes, including the Q400, the model that crashed.

    The airline is based in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, and flies domestically and internationally. The parent company, part of US-Bangla Group, is also involved in real estate, education and agriculture.

    Kathmandu’s airport has been the site of several deadly crashes. In September 2012, a Sita Air turboprop plane carrying trekkers to Mount Everest hit a bird and crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 19 people on board.

    ___

    Associated Press journalists Niranjan Shrestha and Upendra Mansingh in Kathmandu and Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

    Binaj Gurubacharya, The Associated Press






















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    Arts

    Collection featuring Group of Seven paintings donated to University of Lethbridge

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  • LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess spent a lifetime following her passion.

    A lifelong educator and art collector, the Order of Canada recipient bequeathed a collection worth as much as $5 million to the University of Lethbridge following her death at age 100 in 2016. 

    The University of Lethbridge Art Gallery received word last year that Hess had donated her vast collection, which includes works from some of the most well-known artists in Canada and from around the world.

    University president Mike Mahon knew Hess for eight years prior to her death. He said she created a masters-level scholarship for students at the university and her generosity was well known.

    “I’ve seen her generosity in spirit, in volunteerism and in funds over the course of her life,” Mahon said

    “I knew she had an amazing art collection partly because when I would have a cup of tea in her living room you’d be surrounded by the Group of Seven and Emily Carr and others hanging on the wall or stacked against a chair.

    “She had art everywhere.”

    The gallery at the University of Lethbridge, now renamed in her honour, has on display 112 of the 1,140 pieces she donated.

    “It’s really exciting. I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite. It was hard enough to come up with a selection out of the gift to show this summer,” said assistant curator David Smith.

    “What I’ve tried to do is replicate the areas of strength in her collection. More than half of her collection was work by Indigenous artists so more than half the works in this show are Indigenous artists,” he added.

    “There’s a selection of Group of Seven works with Tom Thomson and an Emily Carr piece. They’re really great pieces. The Thomson is particularly exciting. A recent guesstimate says there are only about 75 of those panel sketches left in private hands.”

    There are about 15 Group of Seven paintings safely behind Plexiglas.

    Smith said the remainder of the collection will be displayed in years to come.

    Hess, who was the daughter of a lumber magnate, never married and spent her life collecting art and lecturing on it.

    She received a doctorate of fine arts from the University of Lethbridge and at one point was a member of the university senate.

    “She was very close with A.Y. Jackson. He used to come and stay with her and visit her at her ranch near Cochrane. She’d drive him around to the best spots and they had a really great, lifelong friendship there.”

    Also on display until Sept. 7 is an original sketch by Henri Matisse, a print by Pablo Picasso and the art of prominent Indigenous artists, including Alex Janvier, Bill Reid, Tony Hunt, Jessie Oonark and Helen Kalvak.

    — Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

     

    Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press


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    National

    Quebec’s longest-serving legislature member blames PQ for decline of sovereignty

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  • QUEBEC — The Parti Quebecois is partly to blame for the lack of support for sovereignty, according to the province’s longest-serving legislature member, who believes his party has renounced its duty to promote independence.

    Francois Gendron, 73, will retire from political life this fall after 42 years in the legislature — but not without a few parting shots directed at the media, his political rivals and his own party.

    “The PQ has things to blame itself for,” says Gendron, who was first elected in 1976 under former Parti Quebecois premier Rene Levesque.

    In a lengthy interview with The Canadian Press, the politician says he has three words of advice for his party, which was founded to make Quebec a country but has thus far proven incapable of rallying the population to its cause.

    “Go. Talk. Convince.”

    Gendron, a former teacher, believes sovereigntists have to return to the basics of political activism, and show Quebecers what they have to gain from independence.

    His party, he believes, has failed in this scholarly duty, noting that they haven’t produced a single substantial document on the benefits of sovereignty since the last referendum in 1995.

    When asked if he’s scared he’ll never see Quebec become its own country, he responds, “the answer is yes.”

    The outspoken politician had nothing but good words for former Bloc Quebecois leader Martine Ouellet, who stepped down from her party earlier this month after losing a confidence vote. She currently sits in provincial legislature as an independent but has indicated she won’t run in October’s election.

    Ouellet, who was criticized at times for her laser-like focus on independence, is a woman “of conviction,” who wears the cause proudly and knows it inside and out, Gendron says.

    In contrast, he has harsh words for the poll-leading provincial Coalition Avenir Quebec, whose members he describes as “puppets” with no program, and Philippe Couillard’s Liberals, whose “billions” spent on advertising he says ought to provoke a “social crisis.”

    Gendron also blames a highly individualistic culture and a lack of education among citizens for the decline of the independence movement and most other collective efforts.

    “There’s no more culture, no more history, people know just about nothing,” he says.

    Some of his harshest criticism was reserved for the media, which in his opinion is largely responsible for discrediting the noble role of elected politicians through endless commentary that “pollutes the airwaves.”

    “We’re less credible than sex workers and used car salesmen,” he says.

    Gendron, who will not seek re-election in this fall’s election, says that what he’ll miss the most is representing the 35,000 people in his western Quebec riding of Abitibi-Ouest.

    While outspoken on many topics, he remains more discreet when questioned on his party’s possible fate come October.

    He notes, with a touch of disappointment, that the party has lost its foothold in many ridings that were once PQ strongholds. 

    In his decades-long career, Gendron has held a number of cabinet posts, many of them linked to regional development or resource management.

    He was instrumental in creating the first regional development policy in 1982, which he describes as a moment of pride.

    These days, he’s faced with the task of sorting decades of photos, documents, press clippings and memories as he prepares to make his exit.

    “When we stir all this up, madam, it disturbs,” he says. “It comes to get you at an emotional level.”

    Jocelyne Richer, The Canadian Press



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