Thousands stranded as Nepal's only international airport remains shut

Manesh Shrestha and Maggie Hiufu Wong, CNNUpdated 6th March 2015
A Turkish Airlines jet skidded off a runway Wednesday morning at Kathmandu's airport, shutting down Nepal's lone international airport.
Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) — Nepal's only international airport remains closed two days after a Turkish Airlines plane skidded off the tarmac and blocked the airport's only runway.
Officials said Tribhuvan International would reopen at 10 a.m. local time Saturday as preparations to move the plane continue.
"We do not know now if it will take longer than then to move the plane," Purna Chudal, manager of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, told CNN.
More then 160 flights have been canceled since Wednesday's incident, leaving more than 24,000 passengers stranded as officials struggle to remove the immobile Airbus A330 off the runway, Chudal said.
The timing of the incident is problematic for Nepal's tourism industry, which is gearing up for the 2015 climbing season. Foreigners heading to Mount Everest and other nearby peaks in the Himalayan Mountains transit through the airport.
The authority initially said it would reopen the airport at 10 a.m. Friday, later revising that to 5 p.m., but workers were unable to remove the aircraft by that time.
They were able to lift the plane's nose -- originally pitched down -- and change its tires.
Turkish Airlines passengers were forced to evacuate using emergency slides after the plane they were on skidded and landed nose down on a runway in Nepal.
The main challenge now is to push the grass-grounded plane back onto the runway.
Officials say the area under the plane needs to be firmed up -- a process that involves digging into the ground and filling it with gravel -- before push back can commence.

No aircraft removal equipment

The Turkish Airways incident didn't result in any major injuries but the plane has remained aground as Nepal doesn't have the necessary equipment to move it.
Cargo planes were unable to fly in heavy-duty machinery because there was nowhere to land.
A specialized aircraft carrying experts and aircraft removal equipment from India reportedly arrived on Thursday.

Clearing the backlog

Tribhuvan airport is usually closed between midnight and 6 a.m. but will remain open for 24 hours for the next few days until the backlog is cleared.
More than 12,000 people fly in and out of the airport daily. The facility services about 80 international flights per day.
Domestic service -- operated by by 18 and 40-seater jets -- was not disrupted.