Nepal’s air crash shrouded in mystery - GulfToday

Nepal’s air crash shrouded in mystery

Experts say that infrastructure revamp is a must to deal with the treacherous terrain.

Experts believe infrastructure revamp is a must to deal with the treacherous terrain. "

The air crash on Sunday in the Nepalese city of Pokhara which killed all the 72 on board has raised concerns about the safety protocols in the country on the edge of the Himalayas because there have been several crashes in the same region in the last 22 years, and nearly 350 had died. The ATR72 plane, manufactured by a French-Italian company, has had a record of fatalities too, not just in Nepal but in other countries too, notably in Taiwan.

The two-engine plane is used for short hops as in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and Pokhara. Many of the crashes occurred on this route. It raises questions about the airworthiness of the planes, the safety protocols in Nepal and the competence of the pilots. Surprisingly, two planes, one of Bangladesh, and the other of Pakistan, had crashed near Kathmandu years back. The Pokhara international airport is 2,700 feet above sea level. It is not clear whether the terrain and the wind conditions in this region make flying vulnerable.

The crash is in some ways a setback to Nepal because its economy is hugely dependent on tourist arrivals, most of them foreigners and Westerners, lured by the amiable atmosphere as well as the challenge of the Himalayan peaks, including Mount Everest, the tallest in the world, that form part of the country’s northern regions.  

A possible reason for the crash could have been what a former pilot Terry Tozer calls “aerodynamic thaw’ which is caused when the speed of the plane is too slow and one of the wings is stalled. He says, “In theory that should never happen. If they had a sudden engine failure after take-off, they should have been able to continue on the remaining engine.” Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal has formed an investigation panel, and the ATR72 manufacturers and France’s air accident investigation agency have said they would cooperate with the Nepalese authorities in the investigation.

According to eyewitness accounts, the crashed plane nosedived and broke into two, half of it falling into Seti river and the other half was found on the hillside. Khum Bahadur Chetri, who saw the plane crash from his roof, told Reuters news agency: “I saw the plane trembling, moving left and right, and then suddenly it nosedived and it went into the gorge.” The eyewitness accounts may not be of much help in pinpointing the cause which led to the crash, but they do seem indicate as to what had happened. According to flight tracking website Flight Radar24 the aircraft is 15 years old and the other planes owned by Yeti Airlines are of the same vintage. It also said that the transponder on the plane was giving erroneous data about speed and altitude. Again, this bit of information about the age of the aircraft can only serve as additional input for the investigation of the crash, but it will not be able to determine the exact cause of the crash. The spokesman of the Pokhara airport, Anup Joshi, said the weather was clear, and it (the weather) was not a factor in the crash. The pilot, Captain Kamal KC, asked for permission to change the runways and permission was given.

In 2019 Nepal recorded a tourist inflow of 1.20 million, and it had fallen to 230,000 in 2020 due to COVID. Though tourism had ceased to be adominant factor in the Nepalese economy – in 1995 it accounted for 5.3 per cent of the country’s GDP which has fallen to 2.3 per cent in 2019 – it continues to be a significant factor in the economy of the country. The safety of its civil aviation thus becomes a precondition for Nepal’s growth.

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