Nepal plane crash: Pilot tried to change landing lanes before accident, says official

Nepal on Sunday witnessed one of its worst aviation tragedies when a Yeti Airlines plane crashed in Pokhara. According to officials, there is little to no hope of finding any survivors from the plane, which had 72 people on board. AFP

New Delhi: The pilot of the Yeti Airlines jet that crashed on Sunday, killing all 72 on board, had wanted to land on a different runway than initially assigned, a Nepalese aviation official said.

According to a report in South China Morning Post, “No distress calls were made before the accident,” the official added.

The plane was 18 minutes into its journey when it lost contact with a control tower in the central city of Pokhara. The aircraft had nearly finished its short journey from Kathmandu, the capital, to Pokhara, Nepal’s second-most populous city and a gateway to the Himalayas.

The aviation disaster once again throws the spotlight on the issue of airline safety in Nepal; according to data, the mountainous country averages one flight disaster each year and since 2010, the area has witnessed 11 fatal plane crashes, including Sunday’s.

Severe weather and airports perched on rugged mountains has made Nepal one of the most challenging countries to fly in.

Nepal’s tricky topography

One of the reasons why flying in Nepal is so risky is the topography of the area. Home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, and its beautiful rugged landscapes make it a popular tourist destination for trekkers.

However, it is these conditions that also make Nepal dangerous and tricky to fly in. Captain Amit Singh, a commercial pilot and founder of Safety Matters Foundation, explained in an ANI report that Kathmandu is a valley, it is like a bowl and the airport is in between, surrounded by mountains, high mountains on all sides. So it is a very challenging airfield.

The country’s civil aviation authority in a 2019 safety report had stated that the country’s “diversity of weather patterns together with hostile topography are the main challenges surrounding aircraft operations in Nepal due to which the number of accidents related to small aircraft… seems comparatively higher”.

The country has several hard-to-access airstrips. For instance, the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Nepal’s Lukla area is known as the world’s most dangerous airport — with a single runway that angles down toward a valley below.

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