The Ecuriel helicopter of Fishtail Air had just taken off from Gamgadhi army base on the shores of Lake Rara at 11.25AM. It circled to gain altitude, and suddenly plunged down into the icy waters. Within less than a minute, according to eyewitness accounts, it had sunk.
Dr Rishi Khatri, who was sitting at the back of the helicopter with Princess Prekshya, Sharada Singh and Iswor Basnet, was flung out of the craft. Despite an injured leg, he managed to swim to shore. It took the army personnel nearly 45 minutes to row out to the crash site that was 1 km away. There, amidst the debris of floating seats and pieces of the cockpit, they found Sharada Singh.
Incredibly, she was alive despite having severe head injuries and being unconscious. Both Sharada Singh and Dr Rishi Khatri were airlifted to Nepalgunj and are now in hospital in Kathmandu.
According to rescuers, the body of Princess Prekshya also floated to the surface a while later and was retrieved. The helicopter went down near the north-eastern corner of Rara where the lake is an estimated 200 m deep. The remote and scenic lake is itself situated at over 2,700 m. Army personnel who resumed rescue operations on Tuesday couldn't even see the wreckage.
"Rabin Kadaria was a very experienced pilot, he has done very difficult missions at high altitude," retired Major Bikash Rana of Fishtail Air told us. "The helicopter was not overloaded, there doesn't seem to have been a malfunction." Rana says special diving equipment is being flown in later this week to retrieve the other three bodies and as much of the wreckage as possible.
Khatri has been quoted by visitors at his hospital as saying that Princess Prekshya had asked the pilot to circle over Rara so she could get a better view of the lake when the craft dropped down into the lake while turning.