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Seven people, including tourism minister, killed in a helicopter crash

  • The chopper crashed into a cliff after entering a thick blanket of cloud, eyewitnesses say
- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Feb 27, 2019-

A private helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff on Wednesday in Taplejung, killing seven people on board, including Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Rabindra Adhikari. This is the second chopper accident in recent years involving high-profile individuals in the eastern mountain district.

Along with Adhikari, the crash claimed the lives of prominent tourism entrepreneur Ang Tshiring Sherpa, managing director of Yeti Airlines and the chairman of Air Dynasty; Birendra Prasad Shrestha, deputy director general of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN); Dhurba Bhochhibhoya, deputy director of CAAN; Yubaraj Dahal, a personal aide to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, and Arjun Kumar Ghimire, a Nepal Army official.

The Air Dynasty helicopter was being flown by Captain Prabhakar KC.

[Obituary: Rabindra Adhikari, who rose from a student leader to national politics, dies]

Although the reason behind the crash remains unclear, initial reports show that the pilot had entered a cloud and lost control of the chopper before crashing into a cliff, locally known as Sisne Bhir. “It burst into flames a minute after it took off from Pathibhara Devi temple,” said Pratap Babu Tiwari, spokesperson for the Tribhuvan International Airport.

Photographs from the crash scene show that the chopper descended from the Pathibhara Devi temple and hit a cliff a few feet below. The crash site is located at around 10,000 feet. The temple, which is considered one of the most significant shrines for Hindus, sits at an elevation of 12,448 feet.

The site of the crash, hours after Air Dynasty chopper smashed into a cliff. [Photo: Capt. Bibek Khadka]

According to Tiwari, at 12:44pm on Wednesday, the captain reported heavy snowfall in the area to the Taplejung Airport tower. “Heavy snowfall. Not able to airborne,” the pilot was reported as saying. Airport officials said the area had a strong wind during the afternoon and it was blanketed by thick clouds. The Kathmandu airport was informed about the crash at 1:30pm.

[Obituary: Ang Tshering Sherpa, aviation pioneer and hospitality entrepreneur, dies]

Half a dozen aviation experts and pilots with whom the Post spoke to after the crash said that early indications showed a “flight under pressure” during critical weather.

“The weather was not good at all across the country, and many domestic flights were either being diverted or cancelled,” a pilot told the Post. “In Taplejung, the weather was critical.”

During an initial inquiry by some civil aviation officials, a few local residents in Pathibhara said the pilot had asked them about the weather condition in the low-lying area of Taplejung. “The pilot may have taken risk to fly based on the locals’ information that weather was partly fair in the low-lying area,” said a senior CAAN official who is familiar with the ongoing inquiry and requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the accident.

The impact of the crash, based on photographs and description from eyewitnesses, was so massive that only a part of the chopper’s tail remained intact. The bodies of the six people were piled up at the crash site. One body was recovered a few meters away.

The Air Dynasty helicopter that crashed on Wednesday. [Photo: Air Dynasty]

Chandra Bahadur Karki, one of the eyewitnesses, told the Post that all bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

Moments after the chopper was reported missing, local residents in Pathibhara had informed the police about a huge flame at the crash site.

Some aviation experts suspect that the load factor could have affected the performance of the flight. But a senior pilot from Nepal Army said that the load—helicopter’s manifest shows 2,245 kilograms during takeoff—appeared to be at a permissible limit.

Adhikari and the team had travelled on Wednesday morning for a feasibility study of an airstrip in Chuhandanda, in neighbouring Tehrathum district.

The last high-profile chopper crash in the country took place in September 2006, when a Shree Air helicopter crashed during a chartered flight from Phungling to Ghunsa in Taplejung. The accident killed all 24 passengers and crew on board, including a junior forest minister and an expedition team of World Wide Fund for Nature.

Published: 27-02-2019 14:09

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