Plane crash in Nepal: Search and rescue continues with at least 68 dead



CNN

Hundreds of aid workers went on Monday to search for four missing persons after a deadly plane crash in Nepal.

At least 68 of the 72 people on board were killed when the Yeti Airlines plane crashed near the city of Pokhara on Sunday — the Himalayan nation’s worst air disaster in 30 years. It was also the third worst aviation accident in Nepal’s history, according to Aviation Safety Network data.

Experts say conditions such as inclement weather, low visibility and mountainous topography all contribute to Nepal’s reputation as notoriously dangerous for aviation.

The Yeti Airlines plane was almost finished with its short journey from the capital Kathmandu to Pokhara on Sunday when it lost contact with a control tower. According to the country’s civil aviation authority, some 15 foreigners were on board.

Pokhara, a lakeside city, is a popular tourist destination and gateway to the Himalayas. It serves as the starting point for the famous Annapurna Circuit trekking route, with over 181,000 foreigners visiting the area in 2019.

A government commission is now investigating the cause of the crash, with the help of the French authorities. The Yeti Airlines plane is manufactured by aerospace company ATR, headquartered in France.

Fickle weather patterns aren’t the only problem for flight operations. The country’s “hostile topography” is also part of the “tremendous challenge” faced by pilots, according to a 2019 safety report by the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority.

A country of 29 million people, Nepal is home to eight of the world’s 14 tallest mountains, including Everest, and its beautiful rugged landscapes make it a popular tourist destination for trekkers.

But this terrain can be difficult to navigate from the air, especially during inclement weather, and matters are compounded by the need to use small aircraft to access the more remote and mountainous parts of the country.

Aircraft with 19 seats or fewer are more likely to have accidents due to these challenges, the Civil Aviation Authority report said.

Kathmandu is Nepal’s main transit port, from which many of these small flights depart.

The airport of the city of Lukla, in northeastern Nepal, is often referred to as the most dangerous airport in the world. Known as the Gateway to Everest, the airport runway is built on a cliff between mountains and falls straight into a precipice at the end. It has experienced several fatal accidents over the years, including in 2008 and 2019.

A lack of investment in aging aircraft only adds to the flying risks.

In 2015, the International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the United Nations, prioritized aid to Nepal through its Aviation Safety Implementation Assistance Partnership. Two years later, ICAO and Nepal announced a partnership to solve security problems.

While the country has improved its safety standards in recent years, challenges remain.

In May 2022, a Tara Air flight from Pokhara crashed into a mountain, killing 22 people.

In early 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines flight from Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka to Kathmandu crashed on landing and caught fire, killing 51 of the 71 people on board.

And in 2016, a Tara Air flight crashed while flying the same route as the plane that was lost on Sunday. That incident involved a recently acquired Twin Otter aircraft flying in clear conditions.

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