Panchthar, February 28

A total of 31 persons including ministers have lost their lives in two air crashes in Taplejung district in the past 12 years.

In the first crash on 23 September 2006, as many as 24 persons, including then forest minister Gopal Rai and geologist Dr Harka Gurung, lost their lives when an aircraft carrying them had collided with Dhungje hill in Ghunsa of Taplejung.

Besides the minister and the geologist, the minister’s wife Mina Rai, World Wildlife Fund Nepal representative Chandra Prasad Gurung, Forest Secretary Damodar Parajuli, National Park Department Director General Narayan Prasad Poudel, Forest Department DG Sharad Rai, along with a few foreigners and conservationists, among others, had died in the crash.

The team was heading to Taplejung to hand over Kanchanjungha Conservation Programme to the local community when the accident took place.

Twelve years after the first crash, yet another crash involving a helicopter cost the life of another government minister in the district yesterday.

Minister of Culture and Tourism Rabindra Adhikari and six others, who had come for interaction with the locals regarding the construction of an airport in Chuhandanda, Terhathum, lost their lives while returning to Kathmandu after a brief stopover at the Pathibhara shrine in Taplejung.

Soon after the minister’s team had flown from the shrine, the helicopter carrying them ploughed into a cliff; resulting in the death of all on board.

“It was barely a minute after the minister’s team had flown, the chopper crashed with Tarebhir cliff of Furumbu in Phungling-10,” said Taplejung District Police Office Chief DSP Sanjaya Singh Thapa.

Besides the minister, Yeti Airlines Chairperson Angchhiring Sherpa, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal Deputy Director Birendra Prasad Shrestha, CAAN engineer Dhruv Bhochibhaya, Under-secretary Yuvaraj Dahal at the Prime Minister’s Office, helicopter Captain Prabhakar KC and Minister Adhikari’s personal security officer Arjun Ghimire died in the accident.

After the bodies were extracted and taken to Suketar by Nepali Army choppers, they were taken to Kathmandu today, DSP Thapa said.

All those mobilised for the rescue have returned to Phungling via land.