Saturday’s helicopter crash that killed six has once again put spotlight on Nepal’s aviation safety shortcomings
An Altitude Air helicopter with seven persons on board crashed into a dense forest area bordering Dhading and Nuwakot districts on Saturday morning. Six persons, including the pilot, died. A woman survived and has been brought to Kathmandu for treatment. According to reports, contact was lost with the Airbus-manufactured Ecureuil helicopter (H125 9N-ALS) at around 8:05am after it took off from Samagaun near Mt Manaslu base camp at 7:40am. The AS350 B3e chopper was scheduled to land at Tribhuvan International Airport at 8:20am but could not make it to the destination. The helicopter had landed at Samagaun with four Chinese tourists and a Nepali passenger at around 7:35am. We don’t know yet what caused the accident. TIA officials suspect a technical glitch and that bad weather could have played its part in disrupting communication with the pilot, Nischal KC.
Saturday’s helicopter crash has once again put spotlight on Nepal’s aviation safety. The crash comes on the heels of two accidents involving helicopters in recent weeks—a Simrik Air helicopter mishap on the top of Grande Hospital and a fatal incident at Hilsa, Humla, where an Indian pilgrim died after being hit by the tail rotor of a Manang Air chopper. In Nepal’s difficult terrains, helicopters have massively changed the rescue scenario, but this crash has once again brought to the fore some pertinent questions. Only a thorough investigation could tell us what exactly caused Saturday’s crash. But if some recent incidents involving helicopters are anything to go by, there seem to be some serious lapses with regards to flight operation requirements.
Unlike in the developed countries where helicopter operators may be non-Air Operator Certificate holders, all Nepali operators are licensed to operate commercially by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), the state aviation regulator. Air Operator Certificate (AOC) is the formal certification by the state that the operator is fully qualified to meet the safety objectives in line with the stipulations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) at the minimum. But flight operation requirements seem to have been grossly neglected by operators, with the state aviation regulator standing as a stranger to non-compliance.
For example, the practice of hot refuelling—refuelling with rotors running—is rife among Nepali helicopters, and the fatal accident in Hilsa was the result of the same. In Saturday’s crash, along with other five people, the country also lost one of the best high-altitude pilots. KC, with over 10,000 hours of flying experience, was known as an alpine rescue specialist. At a time when the European Commission is set to review Nepal’s aviation safety standards, this crash could prove to be detrimental. Nepal’s aviation sector is still under the EU radar, with officials only “hoping” that it would be removed from the safety concern list. There is an urgent need to ensure strict implementation of stipulated operation requirements. CAAN, the regulator, must step up to the plate and take necessary measures to make helicopter operators comply with the safety standards. Failure to improve aviation safety standards will put more lives at risk and earn a bad name for Nepal.
It is one of the saddest news that eight persons, mostly women and children, died when a boat capsized at the Begnas Lake, Pokhara on Saturday. Two of the four women who were rescued from the lake died while undergoing treatment at hospitals on Saturday. The bodies of six others were recovered from the lake yesterday. Five of the deceased were children aged between four and 17. All of them were heading to their relatives’ home to take part in a dar programme prior to Teej festival which falls on September 12.
Police said all of them had boarded the boat without wearing life jackets. The boat is said to have gone out of control when the boatman tried to rescue a child who fell into the water. Carrying passengers without life jackets was the first mistake that eventually led to the tragedy. Had the persons been made to wear life jackets, their chances of survival would have increased. Begnas Lake is a busy tourist spot. Locals also commute every day to and from the lake. Five persons also drowned in the flooded Lal Bakaiya River in Rautahat when an overcrowded boat capsized in the evening on August 26. They were also not wearing life jackets.
A version of this article appears in print on September 10, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.