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

The transformation of Gokul Baskota

How Nepal’s communications minister went from being a fierce reporter to a hardline politician against free press. For Gokul Baskota, the last twelve months have been particularly busy. Since taking the helm of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which had been without a leader for several months before his appointment last June, Baskota has eagerly placed himself at the centre of a nonstop media storm, defending every controversial bill the government has tabled or passed—from the Medical Education Bill to the 


By The Kathmandu Post
June 25, 2019

Current affairs

Battle of Okinawa memorial ceremony attended by 5,100

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offers a flower during a memorial ceremony to commemorate those who died in the Battle of Okinawa. The Okinawa prefectural government held on Sunday a memorial ceremony to commemorate those who died in the Battle of Okinawa, in the Peace Memorial Park in the Mabuni area of Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki participated in the event marking the 74th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa during the final stage of World War II. Abe and Tamaki each delivered an address to mourn the victims. About 5,100 people, including bereaved family members of the war dead, attended the ceremony, the first of the Reiwa era. In front of the park’s Cornerstone of Peace stone monuments on which the names of the war dead are inscribed, many people joined their hands in prayer. This yea


By The Japan News
June 24, 2019

Current affairs

Seventeen dead in Sihanoukville building collapse

The accident happened over the weekend. Rescue team recovered 17 corpses and at least 24 injured who were buried underneath the rubble of a building under construction which collapsed in Preah Sihanouk province. In an immediate response to the tragedy, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a donation of 40 million riel to each of the dead victims’ families. Speaking to The Post early on Sunday, Preah Sihanoukville provincial governor Yun Min said: “Up to 8:30am, we have recorded a death toll of 17 persons. “Another 24 have suffered light to serious injuries and are receiving treatment.” The seven-storey building which is under construction collapsed at about 4 am on June 22. Since then, rescue teams have been working round-the-clock in search and recovery operations as they worked against time to save as many of the victim as possible. Families of the victims were


By Phnom Phen Post
June 24, 2019

Current affairs

Hong Kong set for more protest

Hong Kong gears up for more protests over extradition Bill as hundreds gather. Protesters began streaming in towards the Hong Kong government headquarters early Friday (June 21) morning, joining others who had camped there overnight after the administration ignored a deadline the previous day to withdraw a controversial extradition Bill. They have vowed to escalate matters on Friday and cut off access to the roads surrounding the government central offices in Tamar, Admiralty until their list of demands are met. These include a complete withdrawal of the proposed law – plans for which have been indefinitely suspended – for the June 12 protests not to be categorised as a riot, for everyone arrested


By The Straits Times
June 21, 2019

Current affairs

Hong Kong leader apologises for protest response

I offer my most sincere apology to all the people of Hong Kong: Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam offered her personal apology to every Hong Konger for her inadequacies in handling the extradition Bill saga, saying the incident has made her realise she needs to do better, to hear people out and to work harder to balance the view of the people. Mrs Lam told a press conference, which started at 4pm on Tuesday (June 18) and lasted for nearly an hour, that she will not restart the legislative process of the extradition Bill as long as the conflict in society is not resolved. “I have heard you loud and clear and have reflected deeply on what has transpired,” Mrs Lam said.


By The Straits Times
June 19, 2019

Current affairs

Jakarta traffic improves, says global index

The capital’s traffic situation has consistently ranked among the world’s worse. According to the latest Tom Tom Traffic Index, Jakarta’s traffic eased in 2018, making it the city showing the “biggest improvement” last year. The index ranked Jakarta the seventh most congested city in the world, up from fourth place in 2017. “Believe it or not, some cities’ traffic is decreasing over time! The TomTom Traffic Index is reporting that congestion levels are decreasing in Jakarta,” the index’s Twitter account said on Friday. The average congestion level in Jakarta was 53 percent in 2018, compared to 61 percent the year before. Some Twitter users attributed the improvement to the new MRT, but the improvement was recorded before MRT Jakarta was up and running. The TomTom Traffic index is calculat


By The Jakarta Post
June 17, 2019