On a sunny Tuesday morning, a Mexican family embarked on a helicopter tour of Everest, filled with anticipation and excitement. They had watched numerous videos of the world's highest peak on YouTube and were eager to witness its grandeur firsthand. However, their adventure ended in a tragic accident, shedding light on the pressing issue of aviation safety in Nepal.
The Tragic Incident
The Mexican family, consisting of a father, mother, son, and two daughters, had arrived in Nepal from Mexico and booked a helicopter tour to the 8,848.86-metre Everest with Manang Air. After an hour-long tour of Everest, their helicopter made a stop at Surke, a mountain village south of Everest, to refuel for the return flight to Kathmandu. Unfortunately, the helicopter, carrying the Mexican family and piloted by Captain Chet Bahadur Gurung, crashed into a hillside at Lamjura, killing all on board.
The Challenges of Monsoon Season
The monsoon season in Nepal presents significant challenges for climbing expeditions to the Himalaya and trekking in the mountains. The weather conditions are unpredictable, and the trekking routes become slippery, making hiking risky. Despite these challenges, some enthusiasts opt for helicopter tours to get a close look at the towering heights of rock and ice.
The Investigation and Response
The exact cause of the catastrophe is unknown, and a government fact-finding commission led by Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the Ministry of Tourism, is set to launch a detailed investigation. Preliminary reports suggest that the crash was a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), meaning an airworthy aircraft, under the pilot's complete control, unintentionally hit the ground. The pilots are generally unaware of the danger until it is too late.
Nepal's Aviation Safety Record
The Manang Air helicopter crash at Lamjura is the third fatal air disaster in Nepal in 13 months, raising serious concerns about the country's aviation safety record. At least 20 fatal helicopter crashes have occurred across the country since the aviation authority started keeping records in 1966. The latest crash involved a Simrik Air flight which crashed in Sankhuwasabha in May, killing one.
The Impact on Nepal's Tourism Industry
Frequent air crashes have tarnished Nepal's image as a tourism destination, and the repercussions are expected to be long-lasting. On June 26, Tourism Minister Sudan Kiranti accused Pradeep Adhikari, director general of the country's aviation regulator, of consistently failing to ensure aviation safety as there have been five aircraft incidents and accidents on his watch, including two major disasters.
The Need for Reforms
The tragic accident underscores the urgent need for safety reforms at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has urged Nepal to break up the aviation regulator with a clear demarcation of its powers and responsibilities because its dual functions (as a regulator and service provider) give rise to a conflict of interest.
The recent helicopter crash has once again highlighted the country's poor air safety record. It is a stark reminder of the urgent need for comprehensive reforms in Nepal's aviation sector to prevent such tragedies in the future and to restore the country's reputation as a safe tourism destination.