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Flight to Kabul

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
kabul flight

OPERATION KABUL: Captain Srawan Rijal (left) with his brother and co-pilot Subash Rijal in the cockpit before taking off from Kathmandu to bring back the bodies of 12 Nepalis killed in the blast. Pics: Nepal Airlines

Within an hour of the decision by Prime Minister K P Oli to bring back the bodies of the Nepalis killed in the Kabul bus bomb on the morning of 19 June, Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa had got the logistics moving. Nepal Airlines had been informed to have an aircraft ready to go, and the Embassy in Islamabad was informed to connect with the Afghan authorities to have the bodies ready at the airport.

The job of readying the aircraft and route permissions was given to Nepal Airlines under the charge of Capt Srawan Rijal, who has been the pilot liaising with Airbus of the airline’s acquisition last year of two 320-200s. It was 9:30 pm by the time the route permissions started coming in for the countries the plane would overfly. The Indian permission came first, and then the Afghan. But the Pakistan permission was delayed.


The Nepal Airlines plane lands in Kabul to bring back the bodies.

The airline did not have any detailed airways navigation maps for Afghanistan or the final approach chart for Kabul airport. Capt Rijal worked hard to get all the permits and charts ready. He then had to program the onboard computers with the route for the journey to Kabul and back.

Kathmandu Airport closes at 12 midnight, and it was impossible to get everything ready. Nepal Airlines obtained special permission to take off finally at 3:30 am on Tuesday 21 June. By the time the plane had flown the 3.5-hour journey to Kabul the sun was rising and the crew readied the plane for the intricate descent over the Hindu Kush mountains.

kabul radar

The plane had to make a snaky approach from the south and come down to 12,500 ft to avoid high mountains.

With the terrain, Kabul airport also has restrictions due to security. The plane has to make a snaky approach from the south and come down to 12,500 ft to avoid high mountains and then make a steep descent down to the airport at 5,900 ft to avoid military activity.

“It was one of the most challenging landings I have made in my career,” Capt Rijal told Nepali Times. “It was like flying into the war zone that it is.”


The crew members in Kabul.

Occupying the right-hand seat in the cockpit was Srawan Rijal’s brother, Capt Subash Rijal. The two come from a family of pilots: their father is a veteran of Nepal Airlines and their other brother is also a pilot with the airline. Capt Subash Rijal is Operations Director and was involved in all the planning of the Kabul mission.

Also on board were Nepal Army medical personnel and staff from the Ministry of External Affairs.

The plan was to have just a two-hour turnaround in Kabul, but although the coffins with the deceased Nepalis were ready to be loaded, the 24 Nepalis who wanted to take up the government’s offer to fly back to Nepal needed time to get their exit permits at immigration.

It was noon local time when everything was ready for the return journey. The flight attendants made sure the Nepalis on board were comfortable and listened to their stories.

Capt Rijal is full of praise to the government and Nepal Airlines management who pulled all the stops to complete the operation successfully.

“It was because all the departments coordinated well that we pulled it off,” he said, “and I was proud to be part of an operation to take the national flag carrier to help evacuate the bodies of our citizens at such a tragic time. We carried out our responsibility to the nation.”


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3 Responses to “Flight to Kabul”

  1. anonymous on Says:

    young generation is really misguided for only material gain to die abroad…You are not bad when you do not go ‘ out’….Actually it is really advisable to rebuild the country the red cross pays volunteers, that is very honourable, good and respectable.
    Not the whole world has to end up dead or policeman.

  2. Sameer on Says:

    Dherai dherai dhanyabad to all. Look at what we can achieve when we all come together for the common good of the nation and her citizens.

  3. Ghale Tamang on Says:

    I don’t mean to diminish the great work being done by the Rijal brothers, but for ostensible reasons, it is time that Nepal Airlines established a policy not to allow siblings or even close relatives in the same flight be it in a cockpit or cabin.
    That said, I traveled on a Nepal Airlines flight recently after a few years. I did observe and experience that the cabin and ground handling services have improved a lot but still not close to other airlines that fly to Kathmandu.

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