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FILE PHOTO: Shawon, a relative of a passenger who was on board of crashed aircraft of US-Bangla Airlines, visits airline office in Dhaka, Bangladesh March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A deadly plane crash at Nepal's international airport was the fault of the pilot, who had been “extremely upset” and chain-smoked and wept in the cockpit during the flight, an investigation report said.

The US-Bangla Airlines flight from Dhaka to the Nepali capital in March crashed on landing in Kathmandu and caught fire, killing 51 of the 71 people on board, in the Himalayan nation’s worst aviation disaster for 26 years.

Parts of a draft report by a Nepali government-appointed panel, seen by Reuters on Monday, said the captain, Abid Sultan, had been "extremely upset and hurt” by a female colleague who raised questions about his reputation as an instructor in the airline.

“He was very much under stress due to this particular issue,” the report said.

“This mistrust and stress led him to continuously smoke in the cockpit and also suffer an emotional breakdown several times during the flight,” it said.

"The captain was 'crying and sneezing' on several occasions during the flight," the draft said, citing recorded conversation between the cockpit and air traffic controllers.

The first officer was constantly trying to console him, it added.

The captain, a former Bangladesh air force pilot, failed to follow instructions from air traffic controllers to land from a southern approach and took a more difficult northern approach to the single runway. He was unable to align the plane before landing, the report said.

The plane skidded off the runway onto the grass around it. The captain was among those killed.

Reuters was not able to see the complete report. An official of the investigation commission said the draft had been “illegally leaked” and that the final report would take some time to be published.

US-Bangla Airlines CEO Imran Asif said in Dhaka: “The official report has not been published or released. I don't know what evidence they are talking about.”

Landing at Kathmandu airport, which is surrounded by hills, is considered difficult.

In 1992 all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it ploughed into a hill as it tried to land.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka; editing by Andrew Roche)

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Reuters