Fatal air crash in Lukla airport exposes serious safety loopholes

KATHMANDU: Further disturbing facts are emerging about the circumstances in which the Goma Air LET-410 crash at Lukla claimed the lives of the flight crew last month.

Despite the passage of three weeks since, the high-level investigation commission constituted in the aftermath of the fatal crash has not come out with any interim recommendations - despite the common availability of video evidence of the crash and prevailing conditions at Tenzing-Hillary airport, the main gateway to Mt Everest, according to stakeholders.

Apart from the mundane task of relieving the airport manager and the controller on duty, presumably for their safety, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, the air safety regulator apart from the aerodrome and air traffic services provider, has also desisted from taking any meaningful remedial action on the required fronts, they observed.

CAAN’s sheer negligence towards air safety is evident as it still allows flights to Lukla, despite public knowledge of the continuing unavailability of the routine meteorological data at Lukla tower - essential for flight operations and interestingly no NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) have ever been issued to warn the airline users about the hazardous deficiency till date. “The fact that flights to Lukla still continue as usual, whenever weather allows, speaks volumes of the prevailing aviation culture in Nepal,” a senior pilot commented.

Interestingly, the perusal of the monthly bulletin for May 2017 issued by COSPAS-SARSAT, the satellite based search and rescue agency, indicates no instance of the 406 MHz emergency locator beacon activation aboard the Goma Air flight. “This assumes significance, as the aircraft wreckage remained upright and its tail section-where the emergency locator transmitter is installed, was relatively intact in the impact that in all probability saved the cabin attendant’s life.”

As per the stipulations of International Civil Aviation Organisation, commercial aircraft must be equipped with ELTs that transmit the aircraft’s position after impact on the ground to orbiting satellites for onward relay to search and rescue centres, another captain added.

Clearly, inability of the requisite activation of the ELT in the case raises questions regarding the safety equipment’s prior serviceability and thereby the aircraft’s airworthiness itself is also a suspect now, he claimed.

Despite the availability of above facts, the commission’s continued silence is clearly not helping its purported objective of enhancing safety and perhaps reeks of carelessness. “The policy of only publishing the final report of investigation by Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation is also to blame for this situation,” an aviation expert commented.

In comparison, in the aftermath of the Emirates B777 crash landing at Dubai, in August, 2016, factual information was made public by it investigators, the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority, within a month, including all the relevant facts, so that the aviation community could take a leaf from what was known, rather than wait for the final report that might take years, the expert recounted.