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Another air crash

Monday, May 14th, 2012
Pic: RSS

Crash site of Agni Air's Dornier 228 on a mountainside, west of Jomsom Pic: RSS

Barely six months after a deadly plane crash in Kathmandu, there has been another one taking the total number of people killed in seven accidents in the last six years in Nepal to 95.

Fifteen of the 21 passengers and crew on board an Agni Air flight from Pokhara were killed when the Dornier 228 was trying to turn back to Pokhara after reporting a technical glitch. The crash site is on a mountainside west of Jomsom airfield 500 ft (200 m) above the runway at an altitude of 9,000 ft (3,300 m). The weather was reported clear, although the notorious high winds were beginning to pick up at 9:45am when the crash occurred.

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 crash site is located near the Nepal Army’s Mountain Warfare Training Centre, and rescuers were at the scene almost immediately. The injured have been airlifted to hospital in Pokhara, only 15 minutes flight time away.


Crash site (Pic: AFP/Chandeshor Bastokoti)

Rescue team at the site (Pic: AFP/Chandeshor Bastokoti)

The crash will make Nepal even more notorious for aviation safety. This is the fourth crash of a domestic flight in the last two years with a loss of at least 76 lives. 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 Nepalgunj 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.

This is the second major crash involving an Agni Air Dornier. In 2009, a Lukla-bound flight 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 had survived.

Once again an air crash investigation commission has been set up by the government, but it seems certain that the new report will also gather dust. Monday’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.

Kunda Dixit

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