KATHMANDU, NEPAL – All six people aboard a tourist helicopter in Nepal were killed when it crashed soon after take-off in the Everest region on Tuesday, aviation authorities said.
The Manang Air flight was heading for the capital Kathmandu from near Lukla, the gateway for climbing expeditions to the world’s highest peak, with five Mexican travellers and a Nepali pilot onboard.
The chopper lost contact eight minutes after taking off on Tuesday morning, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) said in a statement.
“The six bodies have been recovered and brought to Kathmandu,” Pratap Babu Tiwari, general manager at the Tribhuvan International Airport, told AFP.
Two helicopters were deployed for search and rescue but could not land at the crash site because of the weather.
“The teams on the ground brought the bodies to the helicopters which were able to land close by,” Tiwari said.
Lhakpa Sherpa, a local resident who joined search and rescue efforts, said the scene was “very scary”.
“It looks like the helicopter first collided with a tree and then slammed on the floor. It has caused a small hole in the ground,” he said.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “expressed grief” over the incident, his office said on Twitter.
Poor air safety
Nepal has a booming private helicopter industry, flying tourists and goods to remote corners of the Himalayan nation where road access is limited or non-existent.
The country is notorious for its poor air safety, and Tuesday’s incident is the latest in a string of aviation accidents.
One person was killed and four were injured in May when a helicopter crashed in eastern Nepal after dropping off goods for a hydroelectricity project.
Multiple helicopter accidents claimed more than a dozen lives during rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of Nepal’s devastating 2015 earthquake.
Plane crashes are also common in the Himalayan republic, home to remote and tricky runways flanked by snow-capped peaks that pose a challenge even for accomplished pilots.
The weather can change quickly in the mountains, creating treacherous flying conditions, and Nepal’s woeful safety record has been exacerbated by insufficient training and maintenance.
All 72 people aboard a flight to the tourist city of Pokhara were killed in January when the plane plummeted into a steep gorge, smashed into pieces and burst into flames.
In 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines plane crash-landed near Kathmandu’s notoriously difficult international airport, killing 51 people and seriously injuring 20.
In 1992, in Nepal’s deadliest air accident, all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed on approach to Kathmandu airport.
The European Union has banned all Nepali carriers from its airspace over safety concerns. –AFP