Nepal Plane Crash: Know what makes flying risky in the country

As per the Aviation Safety Database, over the last 30 years, there has been 27 fatal plane crashes in Nepal, of which, over 20 have occurred in the last decade.

Nepal Plane Crash: Know what makes flying risky in the country
Nepal's deadliest crashes have taken place in Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport, perched 1,338 metres above sea level. (representational image: Reuters)

On Sunday, a small plane carrying 22 air passengers crashed near Lete hill in Nepal. The plane- 9N-AET Twin Otter aircraft, operated by the Nepal-based Tara Air, was flying from Pokhara to Jomson carrying 13 Nepali passengers, four Indians, three Japanese nationals, two Germans, along with three Nepali crew members, Sudarshan Bartaula, the spokesperson of Tara Air was quoted saying in an IE report. Nepal has seen several cases of unfortunate plane crashes. As per the Aviation Safety Database, over the last 30 years, there has been 27 fatal plane crashes in Nepal, of which, over 20 have occurred in the last decade.

Why is flying risky in Nepal?

The air crashes in Nepal were mostly caused due to its rugged mountainous terrain, dearth of investment in new planes as well as infrastructure and poor regulation. Also, the airstrips are situated in mountainous areas, amid weather conditions that are known for their sudden turns. The European Union, in the year 2013, banned all Nepal-based airlines from flying in its airspace, citing safety concerns. In the month of March this year, the Kathmandu Post reported that the Nepal government’s failure to act had ensured that the European Union aviation blacklist continues.

Nepal’s deadliest crashes have taken place in Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, perched 1,338 metres above sea level. The terrain is challenging here particularly as it is located in a narrow oval-shaped valley and is surrounded by tall, jagged mountains, which means that flights have less room to manoeuvre in. However, according to most pilots, the steeper and narrower landing strips that are higher in the Himalayas are even more difficult to navigate. Smaller planes comprising turboprop engines, like the Twin Otter aircraft that crashed recently, can arrive here and not the larger jetliners. These smaller planes, according to the report, are more affected by strong weather conditions in Nepal.

Some significant plane crashes that took place in Nepal:

February 2019: A helicopter crashed into a hill as it was trying to find its way back into Kathmandu. The helicopter was operated by Air Dynasty. In the crash, all seven passengers died, including Tourism Minister of Nepal Rabindra Adhikari and entrepreneur Ang Chhiring Sherpa. The Nepal government subsequently started an investigation into the accident. As per the preliminary report, there had been violations of operating procedures, like the disbalance of weights because of the positioning of the fuel tank as well as the incorrect seating arrangements of flyers.

March 2018: A Bombardier Q400 aircraft operated by a Bangladeshi airline, US-Bangla crash-landed in Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport while returning from Dhaka. The accident killed 49 of the 71 passengers and crew. According to the report, the aircraft skidded off the runway then crashed through an airport fence, halted on a football field, and finally exploded. As per the final report published by Nepalese authorities in the year 2019, Abid Sultan, the plane captain and a former Bangladesh Air Force member, “seemed to have an emotional breakdown”. Also, the investigators blamed the crash on the failure of the crew to follow the SOP at the critical flight stage.

September 2011: A Beechcraft 1900D which was operated by Buddha Air, carrying tourists on a sightseeing trip around Mount Everest, collided with a hill. All 19 passengers died, including 10 Indian nationals. The accident was caused due to adverse weather conditions as the Kathmandu airport as well as its surrounding area was encased in thick monsoon clouds during the crash.

September 1992: An Airbus A300 operated by Pakistan International Airlines crashed and killed all 167 people on board while landing at the Kathmandu airport. The flight was coming from Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport and struck the last mountain ridge that lay 11 kilometres before Kathmandu airport. As per the investigation, the approach to the airport is very difficult because of the surrounding topography as well as due to the pilot’s error, the flight began to descend too early.

July 1992: An Airbus 310 operated by Thai Airways crashed on its approach in Kathmandu, killing all 99 flyers as well as 14 crew on board. The Airbus 310 collided with a mountain 37 kilometres north of Kathmandu, during heavy monsoon rain. As per the investigation, there was a minor failure in the plane’s flaps and the plane pilot was having a great deal of stress because of miscommunication with the air traffic controller during poor climatic conditions. According to Nepalese authorities, Thai Airways did not provide the pilot with adequate simulator training for the difficult Kathmandu approach.

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