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Air crashes: 114 killed in 6 years

Friday, September 28th, 2012
The charred remains of Sita Air Dornier 228 which crashed near the banks of the Manohara River on Friday morning. (Pics: Bikram Rai)

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.

Locals gathered around the river bank near the crash site

Locals gathered around the river bank near the crash site.

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.

NA personnel recovers Black box from the crash site

NA personnel recover the black box from the crash site.

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.

Men from the APF try to reposition the upside down plane.

Men from the APF try to reposition the upside down plane.

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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One Response to “Air crashes: 114 killed in 6 years”

  1. David Maggs on Says:

    I’m researching a television series on dangerous airports, including Lukla, and would love to contact the author of this article to discuss air safety issues in Nepal. Please pass along my contact information.

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