I2 weeks have passed since the last preventable tragedy in the skies over Nepal. Twenty-two people died when a Twin Otter on a flight from Pokhara to Jomsom hit the side of a mountain on May 29.
This is the 64th major air crash in Nepal in the past 60 years, in which more than 818 people have been killed. Some 92% of them died when their plane flew over the mountains in bad weather. The count does not include small accidents.
Like all statistics, these numbers are staggering. When disasters become frequent, compassion fatigue sets in and people disconnect. But each accident is a huge tragedy for dozens of families and friends of passengers and crew. The country has also lost eminent professionals in all fields. Nepal’s ambassador to India was among 10 people who died in a crash in 1962, and a rescue plane that flew to the site also met with disaster, killing a prominent doctor. Some of the country’s top conservationists were killed in the 2006 Ghunsa helicopter crash. The 2018 Bangladeshi plane crash at Kathmandu airport claimed the life of the country’s top neurosurgeon. Nepal and 10 promising students who had just graduated from medical school.
There is an unfair asymmetry in media reporting of air and road accidents. Plane crashes get far more media attention than road accidents, even though 3,000 people are killed on highways in Nepal every year, more than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV combined. (One result of the pandemic was that Nepal’s road death toll was much lower in 2020 due to closures.)
Read also: The highways of death, Sunir Pandey
The reason for this disproportionate focus on aviation is that people in higher income brackets are involved and the impact of a poor aviation safety record on tourism. For an industry that has such a significant impact on the economy, one would have thought that the government and private operators would have done more to improve aviation safety standards.
It is perhaps not so surprising when there is such a glaring lack of political will to eliminate extortion and corruption in the migration sector – even more important for the country’s economy due to remittances. fund of Nepalese working abroad.
A commission of inquiry is formed after each plane crash. A report is quietly published a few months later recommending security measures. He goes on a shelf, his warnings and suggestions gathering dust. The committees overlap and sometimes have the same members.
Analysis of data from past air crash investigations in Nepal shows that most crashes took place in bad weather when fully airworthy planes crash into the mountains. Only a few of these accidents are due to mechanical failures. There have also been no serious accidents with fatalities over the past 60 years on the main roads between the capital and the towns of Tarai.
We know what the problem is (planes flying through clouds that hide mountains) and the solution (regulatory control, visual flight rules (VFR) enforcement, crew training, better prediction of en-route weather conditions).
It is therefore shocking, but not surprising, that these deadly disasters continue to occur.
Also read: Why missing planes are so hard to find in Nepal, Nepali Times
Two nearly identical accidents of the same type of aircraft belonging to the same airline on the same route in similar weather conditions and at almost the same location prove that the cockpit instrumentation and the age of the aircraft are not major factors.
A Tara Air Twin Otter slammed into a mountain above Dana in February 2016 while flying from Pokhara to Jomsom, killing all 23 people on board. Six years later, on May 29, 2022, another Tara Twin Otter crashed into the valley, killing 22 people.
The plane in 2016 was an all-new, improved Viking Air version of the Twin Otter that showed virtual terrain to pilots on the glass cockpit. The Twin Otter in this year’s crash was 43 with an analog cockpit. Both aircraft were flown by captains who had 30 years of experience flying Twin Otters in Nepal.
Still, the two hit mountains in the clouds. There is something else at play here. A culture of laxity, neglect and fatalism are the underlying causes. Poor oversight by regulators and airlines also plays a role.
Making real-time en-route weather available to pilots would be helpful, along with stricter VFR compliance.
Ultimately, Nepal needs more responsible leadership and better governance to stop this carnage in our skies.
Read more: Safer Skies, Vijay Lama