Individual tragedies, and a national loss

With her white coat and a stethoscope slung around her neck, Samira Byanjankar was doing the rounds at Patan Hospital on Thursday, trying to save lives after her own life was spared in the crash of US-Bangla flight BS211 exactly a year ago.

Byanjankar was among 20 of the 71 on board who survived the fiery crash at Kathmandu airport in which she lost four of her roommates from a medical school in Bangladesh.

Read also: 1 year after US-Bangla crash, fingers point to pilot, Kunda Dixit

Among the dead were ten other Nepali medical students who had just graduated, most of them young women. Sitting on a right-hand aisle seat of the Q400 aircraft, Byanjankar survived while her friends in rows in front and next to her were either killed, or died later in hospital.

Byanjankar herself fractured her hip, and still has a scar on her lips. She spent four months in hospital and is now an intern at Patan Hospital where she has devoted herself to healing others, partly to take her mind off the horrific tragedy and memories of friends she lost.

Read also: Ashna isn't coming home, Sikuma Rai

JUST MEMORIES: Only Samira Byanjankar (far left) in this last group picture taken just before the flight at Dhaka airport survived the crash of the US-Bangla plane last year. Ashna Shakya (third from left), Saruna Shrestha (second from left), Algina Baral (second from right) and her cousin Charu Baral (right) all died.

“We were so excited when we went to Bangladesh for the first time,” Byanjankar recalls with a faraway look in her eyes. “I did my pre-med with Charu Baral and we applied for MBBS together. Ashna Shakya was my closest friend from school days. Princey Dhami was outgoing and always sweet. Algina Baral dreamt of doing a postgraduate in America.”

The five were inseparable in medical school in Bangladesh, they helped each other in their studies and went on trips together to nearby Shillong in India because it reminded them of home. Classes were hectic, but the five would watch South Indian movies together on laptops when they got some time off.

All five were among 20 students from Jalalabad Ragib Rabeya Medical College in Sylhet who flew back together. The last group photograph of the five friends (above) at Dhaka airport that morning shows smiling young women full of promise, looking forward to meeting their families and becoming doctors. They were making calls to parents, taking selfies, and buying last-minute presents in the duty free area before the flight boarding announcement.

“I don’t know if I am lucky or not. I got to live, but losing so many dear friends at the same time is hard. I still have not mustered the courage to visit the parents of my friends. It will be even more difficult for them,” says Byanjankar in a quiet voice.

Most of the students dozed off during the flight, and woke each other up when the mountains of Nepal came into view. The plane was descending, and those with window seats started pointing at familiar landmarks. The students had done the flight many times before, but they knew something was wrong when the plane aborted its landing, flew low and then climbed and turned steeply.

Suddenly, there was a big bang, and for Byanjankar it all went dark. When she came to about ten minutes later, she was wet from the water hose of the fire trucks. She tried to wake up her friends, but they were not moving at all. She was pulled out before the fire consumed the crushed cabin, and taken to KMC Hospital in an ambulance.

Before boarding the plane in Dhaka, Charu Baral had exchanged her boarding pass with Byanjankar so she could sit with her cousin Algina. Samira then sat next to Princey Dhami. That seat swap cost Charu her life, and probably saved Samira’s. Princey was grievously wounded and died 20 days later in hospital in Delhi.

Most of the students were from middle class Nepali families who had invested their savings to afford medical education for their children. The Byanjankars had sold a portion of their land. The stories of individual tragedies in the families add up to a national loss. A dozen aspiring doctors were killed, as well as one of Nepal’s top neurosurgeons, Bal Krishna Thapa of the BP Koirala Memorial Cancer Hospital in Chitwan.

“I was fated to live, and I want to devote this gift to my family and my patients,” says Samira Byanjankar. “I see my friends often in my dreams, where we are all planning trips together again.”

Monika Deupala


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