See More on Facebook

Current affairs

Nepalese air crash was under an inexperienced co-pilot’s command

Authorities at the regulatory body said the pilot may have allowed the co-pilot to take off because there were no passengers on board.


Written by

Updated: April 15, 2019

A relatively inexperienced co-pilot was at the controls when a Summit Air plane started to skid during its attempt to take off at Lukla airport, causing it to lose control and run into an exterior fence colliding with two parked helicopters, three officials familiar with the preliminary probe told the Post.

Two policemen and the co-pilot, Sujit Dhungana, were killed when the 19-seater aircraft crashed on Sunday morning. The incident is the first recorded accident in Nepal’s civil aviation history in which an aircraft killed personnel on the ground.

Aviation authorities investigating into the crash told the Post that the co-pilot who was commanding the LET L-410 flight taking off from what has been dubbed one of the world’s most challenging airports had significantly fewer flying hours.

“The co-pilot has not had more than a year and a half of flying experience,” an official involved in the preliminary probe told the Post on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. “That is too little experience to fly in and out of such a challenging airport.”

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal rules mandates a co-pilot flying in high-altitude areas to complete additional training—including for short takeoff and landing—with an instructor pilot.

During Sunday’s takeoff, investigating officials said that the captain could have allowed the co-pilot to take control because he had confidence in his abilities and the flight was not carrying any passengers. But officials at the regulatory body told the Post they will investigate all documents to confirm whether Dhungana, the co-pilot, was qualified to take off.

Officials at the aviation regulator said that they have obtained the aircraft’s flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder (CDR) and interviewed flight’s captain, Rabindra Rokaya, to launch a formal investigation into Sunday’s crash.

Another official at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said that the plane swung immediately after the pilots fed power to the plane’s systems. “The pilot-in-command was unable to control the plane and it eventually skidded off the runway,” the official said. A video obtained by the Post from the scene shows the moment the flight started to skid off the runway seconds after it began to accelerate.

[Watch: CCTV footage shows the Summit Air crash]

Moments later, the plane ran into an exterior fence and collided with two parked helicopters that belonged to Manang Air and Shree Air. There were no passengers aboard the aircraft because normally, during the climbing season, flights drop off passengers at Lukla, the closest airport to the Everest base camp, and return with empty seats. It was Summit Air’s third flight to Manthali Airport in Ramechhap, from where it would pick up passengers who had flown in from Kathmandu to come to Lukla.

An eyewitness who was at the scene described the moment the plane came hurling towards the helipad from the flight takeoff point.

“The plane started to roll with its nose down from the end of the runway where the airport terminal is located. After rolling for about 30 metres in full speed, the aircraft lost control and suddenly turned right before hitting the Manang Air helicopter,” said Ang Tashi Sherpa, an eyewitness of the Sunday’s accident who works as a rescue specialist for Simrik Air.

“The aircraft first hit Manang Air helicopter standing on the upper helipad which had its rotors spinning, and was dragged downwards before it hit the Shree Air helicopter parked at the lower helipad,” said Ang Tashi.

Ang Tashi said passengers at the airport, most of whom were foreign trekkers and mountaineers, started to scream and rush to the crash site.

Tribhuvan International Airport spokesperson Pratap Babu Tiwari said that Assistant Sub-inspector Ram Bahadur Khadka stationed at the helipad for duty was killed on the spot. Assistant Sub-inspector Rudra Bahadur Shrestha, who was injured in the incident and airlifted to Kathmandu, died at Grande International Hospital later in the morning, hospital officials told the Post.

Rabindra Rokaya, the captain of the flight who was assisting the co-pilot, and Chet Gurung, captain of the Manang Air helicopter, and Lakpa Sherpa, an official with Manang Air, were injured in the accident. They are receiving treatment at Grande Hospital and are out of danger, doctors said.

According to Ang Tashi, the Manang Air helicopter’s rotors were spinning after it dropped some government officials at Lukla, including chief district officer and police officials who had arrived in Solukhumbu district to participate in a New Year event. Two policemen who were killed on the ground had been mobilised for the security of the government officials, he said.

“The accident happened just a few minutes after the chief district officer and the police officials disembarked from the chopper,” Ang Tashi said.

“At first, I was afraid to enter the Manang Air chopper because there was smoke coming from the back of the plane,” he said, recalling moments after the crash. “After a while, when I entered the chopper and tried to pull the helicopter captain out of his seat, he told me he could not move because of severe back pain,” said Ang Tashi. “I asked him whether the main fuel was shut off. He told me it was.”

According to Ang Tashi, the co-pilot may have died because of the impact of the Manang Air’s rotor that could have hit him. “The plane had dragged the helicopter down for few seconds and the rotor was still spinning,” he said.

This is the second crash of Summit Air, formally known as Goma Air, and third crash with casualties in Lukla. Two years ago, Summit Air Flight 409 crashed on its final approach to Lukla, killing two pilots. In 2008, a Yeti Airlines flight crashed while making a final approach and caught fire, killing 18 passengers and flight crew. The aircraft’s captain was the only survivor.

The runway at the Lukla airport, often referred to as one of the world’s dangerous airports, is 527 meters long that has been carved into a mountain ridge with a sharper-than-normal slope. The airport is located at 2,845 meters above sea level and is considered the first stop for hundreds of climbers who come to Nepal annually during this time of the year to climb Mount Everest.

 



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Kathmandu Post
About the Author: The Kathmandu Post was Nepal’s first privately owned English broadsheet daily and is currently the country's leading English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Current affairs

SAARC turns 35 but has very little to show for its age

The regional bloc of seven South Asian countries and Afghanistan has largely been held hostage to the rivalry between India and Pakistan, say analysts. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation might have turned 35 but its three-and-a-half decades of existence has largely failed to advance its own central tenet—regional cooperation. As SAARC marked its 35th anniversary with a flurry of congratulatory messages from heads of government, expressing their commitment to regional cooperation, many analysts and diplomats wonder if these promises will ever translate into action. The regional association has failed to hold its 19th summit, ever since 2016 when India sud


By The Kathmandu Post
December 9, 2019

Current affairs

Why Hong Kong residents turned out in record numbers to vote

Many say events of past 5 months galvanised their desire to exercise their democratic right. Amid mild autumn weather and under a clear blue sky in Lek Yuen, the oldest public housing estate in Hong Kong’s Sha Tin, a snaking queue formed outside the community hall shortly after dawn yesterday. It was the constituency’s polling station of the day, and hundreds were in the line before the opening time of 7.30am to vote for their district councillor, one of the lowest rungs of Hong Kong’s elected offices. The scene was repeated across the territory’s 18 districts, where nearly three million people showed up to vote in elections that are usually a quiet affair, with chosen officials confined to dealing with noise complaints and local infrastructure improvement projects. The officials, however, also represent 117 of the 1,200-strong Election Committee that chooses the city̵


By The Straits Times
November 25, 2019

Current affairs

Nearly 1,000 China nationals nabbed in Malaysia

They are believed to be online scam workers. Malaysian authorities have nabbed nearly 1,000 China nationals who were believed to be working in the country with an online scam syndicate, local media reported. The bust on Wednesday (Nov 20) by the Immigration Department in Cyberjaya was the biggest conducted this year, Bernama news agency said. On its Facebook, department said the raid was conducted at the syndicate’s headquarters in Cyberjaya. Immigration director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud said the syndicate was operating from a six-storey building in Cyberjaya, a high-technology zone located about an hour south of Kuala Lumpur. The raid was the end result of a month’s worth of surveillance, following complaints from the public. The office was well secured, with guards stationed at each floor and rooms only being accessible with access cards, The Star reported.


By The Straits Times
November 22, 2019

Current affairs

MH17 probe releases new phone calls linking suspects to top Russians

With contributions by AFP. A Dutch-led probe into the shooting-down of flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 released new intercepted phone calls on Thursday (Nov 14) between high-ranking Russian officials and suspects facing trial over the crash. Investigators said they were making a “new witness appeal” based on “recorded telephone calls between the leaders of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist group) and high-ranking Russian officials.” “Ties between Russian officials and DPR leaders appear to have been much closer” than originally believed, Mr Andy Kraag, the head of Dutch police’s Criminal Investigations Division, said in a video statement. Investigators said in June that they were going to put three Rus


By Warren Fernandez
November 15, 2019

Current affairs

Five years later, prosecutorial probe kicks off into Sewol ferry sinking

For some families, it is too little, too late. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on Monday launched a special investigation unit to probe allegations surrounding the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014. During a press briefing at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, the unit said it is “committed to making its probe so thorough that it will be the last one to be conducted into the Sewol sinking.” The unit will take on investigations conducted by a provisional state commission formed in January 2015 with a fact-finding mission on the Sewol case. This is the prosecution’s first organized effort concerning the disaster from over five years ago. On April 16, 2014, the 6,825-ton ferry with a passenger capacity of 921 sank off the coast of South Jeolla Province en route to Jeju Island, killing over 300 people, mostly children. The 18-member prosecution unit is headed by


By Zaffar Abbas
November 12, 2019

Current affairs

Ayodhya verdict is silent on why Muslims must prove exclusive possession of site

The Indian court has deprived Muslims of the disputed plot because they couldn’t show exclusive possession before 1857. On page 215 of the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid verdict, delivered by a five-judge bench on Saturday, the Supreme Court makes a crucial statement of logic: “It is true that in matters of faith and belief, the absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence.” But in its final findings, the court contradicted this same logic. The crux of the judgment that India has awaited since 1949 is that Muslims failed to show unimpeded possession of the disputed site in Ayodhya between 1528, when the mosque was supposedly built by Mughal emperor Babur, and 1857, when, after a clash between Muslims and Hindus, a railing was erected between the inner and outer courtyards at the disputed site. The inner courtyard is where the mosque demolished by Hindutva mobs in 1992 stood. The outer courtyard has se


By Asia News Network
November 12, 2019