The worst air crash in Nepal in more than three decades kills at least 68 according to local officials. As of the time of publishing, the cockpit voice recorder and “black box” of the affected aircraft have both been found.
At Least 68 Dead in Nepal
On Sunday, the Himalayan nation of Nepal was shocked by the news of the crash of Yeti Airlines Flight 691 and the death of at least 68 people, with some local news outlets reporting that there were no survivors among the 72 passengers and crew on board. Flight 691 was operating a domestic flight from Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu to the city of Pokhara, a city only 90 miles away, with a flight time of around 30 minutes. According to preliminary findings of safety investigations, the cause of the crash was related to a malfunction with the aircraft, with weather playing no factor in the crash. Nepal, often dubbed the “ceiling of the world” due to the sprawling Himalayan mountains and some of the highest elevations in the world, is known for rapid changes in weather patterns, which causes some flights in the country to fall victim to severe turbulence. The aircraft operating the route was a 15-year-old turboprop ATR 72-500, a product of the Franco-Italian aviation manufacturer Aérospatiale/Aeritalia. The aircraft was first delivered to Indian domestic carrier Kingfisher before transferring to Thai low-cost carrier Nok Air until it finally found its current home in Nepal with domestic carrier Yeti Airlines. The flight had 68 passengers and four crew on board, with nearly 75% of all passengers coming from Nepal, and other passengers onboard coming from India, Russia, South Korea, Argentina, Australia, France, and Ireland. The domestic Nepalese aviation market is relatively crowded for a country its size, with many different airlines operating domestic routes in the country, mostly in the interest of domestic travelers and mountain climbers and outdoor enthusiasts from abroad. The flight’s copilot, Anju Khatiwada, was due to become promoted to captain upon completing this flight, and her husband, who was also a pilot with Yeti Airlines, had lost his life in another plane crash from the airline in 2006.
“The Left Wing Suddenly Dropped”
Just hours after news of the crash broke online, two videos were released online which showed the crash from both outside, and inside the aircraft. The video from the ground showed the aircraft, which was on final approach to its destination, make a sudden sharp left turn and plow into the ground. Amazingly, video had also been taken from inside the aircraft and was being streamed on Facebook Live during the approach, which seemed to show the aircraft’s nose noticeably high before the left wing suddenly dropped. Crash investigators are pointing to a possible stall on final approach, with caused the left engine to lose power and force the aircraft to turn sharply left and finally towards the ground below. A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said after the crash that “the weather was clear; according to preliminary information, the cause of the crash is the technical issue of the plane”. On Monday, January 16, Nepalese investigators announced that they had retrieved the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder of the aircraft, with both recorders seemingly in good shape.
A Country with a Checkered Aviation Past
Yeti Airlines is just one of a bevy of airlines operating domestic flights within Nepal, which has a thriving tourist industry based around the Himalayan mountains, as well as a population of over 30 million. In recent years, however, the safety record of Nepalese airlines has come under scrutiny, with all Nepalese airlines and aircraft banned from flying within European Union airspace since 2013. Since 2000, almost 350 people have been killed in aircraft or helicopter crashes in Nepal, where a mixture of high mountains, sudden weather changes, and lax safety regulations have made flying in the country a somewhat dangerous venture. In response to the crash on Sunday, the Nepalese Aviation Authority did a spot check of all ATR aircraft registered in the country, but reported no technical issues with any aircraft. Yeti Airlines, which is the second-largest domestic carrier in the country, announced that they would be cancelling all flights on Sunday and Monday in mourning for those who were lost on the route between the country’s two most populous cities. Yeti Airlines operates a fleet of six other ATR 72-500’s, which is a popular aircraft choice for many airlines around the world which operate short-haul routes, most notably in Indonesia, Brazil, and India. The crash was the deadliest in Nepal since 1992, where a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A300 crashed while on approach to Kathmandu Airport, killing all 167 people on board.