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Fatal flights

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Exactly one year after a Mt Everest sightseeing plane met its disastrous end in Kathmandu and barely six months after a deadly crash in Jomsom, another domestic airliner has crashed in Kathmandu.

A Sita Air Dornier 228 on an early-morning flight from Kathmandu to Lukla on Friday 28 September plunged into the banks of the Manohara River in Bhaktapur a few minutes after takeoff, killing all 16 passengers and 3 crew members. Most of the passengers are said to be trekkers on their way to Everest Base Camp.

Sources at the air traffic control said the pilot reported a bird strike on one of the engines and was trying to turn back to land on a single engine. Halfway through the turn, the pilot appears to have decided to ditch on the Manohara River.

Eyewitnesses said the plane did not catch fire immediately, and local residents who rushed to the site said they heard people screaming from inside the plane. However, the plane’s fuel tank caught fire soon after and it took the fire engines nearly 40 minutes to put it out by which time everyone on board was dead. It is now known that seven of the passengers were Britons, five were Chinese nationals and the rest, including the crew, were Nepalis.

The total number of people killed in eight aviation disasters in the last six years has now risen to 114. While most previous crashes have happened due to pilot error leading to planes hitting mountains in cloud, Friday’s crash appears to have been due to a technical problem on the plane while the pilot was trying to bring the plane back to land.

The pilot of another flight that took off soon after the crash reported a dead bird on the runway, leading to speculation that the plane may have hit a bird on takeoff, damaging the flight control system. Sita Air has two Dornier 228s and operates flights to Lukla, Surkhet, Simkot, and Jumla. In May, 15 of the 21 passengers and crew on board an Agni Air flight from Pokhara were killed when another Dornier 228 hit a mountain near Jomsom airport.

An air crash investigation of that incident showed that the crew was distracted by a landing gear malfunction signal and was trying to fly back to Pokhara. The debris of that crash are still on a mountainside west of Jomsom airfield. The two pilots and 13 Indian passengers were killed. Among the survivors are the flight attendant, two Danish trekkers and two young Indian girls and their relative: all were sitting at the back of the plane.

The crashes will make Nepal even more notorious for aviation safety, and because so many of the casualties have been foreigners, could have a negative impact on tourism. This is the fifth crash of a domestic flight in the last two years, and that does not include four other helicopter crashes, some of them fatal.

In October 2011, six people were killed when a military rescue flight from Nepalganj to Kathmandu went off course at night and hit the mountains near Dhorpatan. Barely a month before that, a Mt Everest sightseeing flight returning to Kathmandu hit a hillside near Kathmandu airport killing all 14 on board, most of them Indian passengers. In December 2010, 22 crew and passengers, most of them pilgrims from Bhutan, were killed when a Twin Otter hit a mountain after takeoff from Lamidanda.

In 2009, another Lukla-bound Agni Air Dornier 228 crashed after turning back to land in Kathmandu due to bad weather and multiple generator failure. In November 2008, a Yeti Airlines Twin Otter crashed on the threshold of the runway at Lukla, killing 14 passengers, mostly German tourists. Only a co-pilot survived.

Once again an air crash investigation commission will be set up by the government, but it seems certain that the new report will also gather dust. Friday’s crash and the previous Agni Air crash seem to have had technical issues but most crashes in Nepal are caused by pilot disorientation while flying through the mountains in cloudy weather.

Questions will be asked about sloppy regulations and inspection, and airlines cutting corners on maintenance.

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8 Responses to “Fatal flights”

  1. Rinji Sherpa on Says:

    You probably will not print my comment but about seven months ago at Lukla, a stove maker from the plains was called to fix something on a Sita Air aircraft. I only found out after some trekking guides were getting agitated because they needed to repair their stoves in a hurry before the trek started but the stove maker was too busy tinkering with the aircraft. I saw the stove maker working on the aircraft fuselage just beside the folding ladder. It might have been a minor dent which the stove maker could have resolved – but still, come on!!

  2. yam gurung on Says:

    My heartfelt sympathy goes to the passengers and the pilot killed in the ill-fated Sita airline.So many innocent lives have been taken by the fatal air disaster in the avation history of Nepal.Because of bad politcs,commission and napotism.
    Nepal govt have brush asisde what the expert did suggest,regarding safety of the airline etc.Not to built the airport in the lanfill now the Pokhara regional airport is also proposed to built near the landfill area.
    Thai airline and the Nepal airline were established in the same year.Nepal airline still in ground zero.
    look at the other airlines.Qatar and other are collecting huge revenue from Nepal.

  3. anup on Says:

    It is tragic that precious lives have been lost in this manner.

    But let us think for a moment. Are we not giving too much attention only to airline accidents- the press coverage, the national and international attention.
    A couple of months ago, two buses plunged into the Narayani and Trishuli rivers in the span of a few days, killing nearly a 100 people in between them. The attention given to those two was perhaps half as much as the airlines got, no one talked about who the driver was, who the passengers might have been, or how the accident might have occurred. Was there an investigation team formed with the former secretary as chair? After all those are also precious lives. And it is a lot more easier to enforce rules and prevent accidents in the roads than it is in the air. After all you cannot do much when a plane is airborne. I think it is very important that we diligently do something to stop traffic accidents in totality and prevent the hundreds of lives being lost each year.

  4. Deepak Karki on Says:

    All the Netas, i.e., political bosses should climb on a rickety, malfunctioning airplane in Nepal, that airplane would be then hit by an eagle, that would crash, all the rotten and corrupted would disappear from this world as we know it, and Nepal would be a better country and a better place. Instead, innocent, hard working and honest men and women are dying. This is the pity in Nepal today. How many crash do you need ?

  5. martin on Says:

    there is a system for aircraft called balistic recovery systems that allows even moderately sized aircraft to be saved in emergency with a rocket fired parachute. taking into account the safety records in nepal a law should be passed that all aircraft that are small enough to be fitted with this device should have it fitted. in this case the pilot would have fired off the parachute and landed softly without any need for loss of life.

  6. Bhuwan Thapa on Says:

    Criminal Ba***rds running this country and I guess its high time that the Aviation industry of Nepal should be black listed and people advised against travelling to Nepal. How can people like Prachanda and Babu ram who have blood in their hands ever think of safety & security for the people.

  7. Suman Sharma on Says:

    Deepak Karki makes a good point. A serious point. At some point, the Netas must be held accountable for the sorry state of avation as well as ground transportation. I for one, would be delighted to read that the crummy and corrupted Netas perished in Nepali airline crash, where only the pilots and flight attendants servive w/o a scratch. Netas of Nepal have No accountibilty, they are looting the people and getting away with murder as the cliche goes, you know. If we can take a few high profile Netas and tar them with feathers, maybe things would change, may be. Every one knows the head of the fish is rotting, but no can cut and throw in the trash where it belongs. This is sadness of Nepal, total apathy, no action, killers are having a field day. Jai Nepal

  8. CAA insider on Says:

    Dear Mr. Kunda Dixit,

    You are an aviation enthusiast and I can see you care deeply about aviation safety in Nepal. Please investigate and see why the CAA of Nepal have suspended all the senior accountable managers in the Engineering Dept. of the major domestic airlines that operates ATR72-200 aircraft. They’re trying to hush up the facts but it should be made available to the public. For safety’s sake. January 2013

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