Eerily, this week's earthquake coincided with the fifth anniversary of the accident and the epicenter of the 6.9 quake itself was located very near the crash site in Ghunsa.
"It is almost as if the earthquake served to jolt our memories about that tragic loss five years ago," says Hum Gurung, of Bird Conservation Nepal, who knew most of those who died.
Twenty-four people were killed on 23 September 2006, and included people like Harka Gurung, Nepal's veteran geographer, planner and former tourism minister; Chandra Gurung, the founder of the pioneering eco-tourism model of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project; Mingma Sherpa, the noted conservationist who helped establish the Sagarmatha National Park; Tirthaman Maskey who found a way for people and national parks to co-exist.
Also killed were diplomats, donor officials, the State Minister of Forests and Soil Conservation, bureaucrats from the ministry of environment and journalists. They were returning from a ceremony marking the transfer stewardship of the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area to local communities. The tragedy set back Nepal's conservation movement by decades.
The government has since declared 24 September as National Conservation Day and family members and colleagues have set up memorial scholarships and funds to encourage more students and academics to pursue conservation work through practical action.
Nepal Conservation Memorial Scholarship
To honor the 24 individuals lost in the Ghunsa helicopter crash and their commitment to preserving Nepal's rich natural heritage, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has established a memorial scholarship fund that will assist students who wish to pursue careers in conservation. Each year WWF awards a Nepal Conservation Memorial Scholarship to a student who has completed 10 years of compulsory education and would like to pursue a technical certificate level (TCL) in forestry at the Institute of Forestry (IOF), Hetauda Campus.
Chandra Gurung Conservation Foundation
The Chandra Gurung Conservation Foundation (CGCF) is a social service organisation founded by Chandra Gurung's extensive network of colleagues, friends and staff. It works in tandem with its sister organization in the US, the Chandra Gurung Conservation Trust. Together, their mission is to mentor and support the next generation of sustainable development practitioners from Nepal, and to keep the legacy of Chandra Gurung alive, especially his people-centered approach to nature conservation.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has also established the Chandra Gurung Memorial Scholarship to provide financial assistance to conservationists from Nepal who wish to pursue a master's degree in a conservation-related field. Chandra Gurung's protégé, Hum Gurung, says the scholarship has given permanence to the memory of Nepal's conservation heroes. He adds: "They may no longer be with us, but their work will go on."
Mingma Norbu Sherpa Memorial Fund
Mingma Sherpa was in the first batch of students to graduate from the Hillary Khumjung School set up by Sir Edmund Hillary in Khumbu. This fund has been set up in New Zealand as a "living memorial to Mingma Sherpa". It has established an endowment fund to support students from the Himalaya to conduct post-graduate studies at Lincoln University, New Zealand where Mingma also studied.
Mingma Sherpa Memorial Scholarship
The Mingma Sherpa Memorial Scholarship has also been established to award students who have completed 10 years of compulsory education and would like to pursue a Technical Certificate Level in Forestry at the Institute of Forestry (IOF), Pokhara Campus. After completing, WWF will also support Mingma Sherpa Scholars to attend a four-year Bachelor of Science Degree program in Forestry at IOF.
The academy was established in 2007 in memory of Gopal Rai, Minister of State for Forest and Soil Conservation and his wife Meena who died in the Ghunsa helicopter crash. It has been organising blood donation programs and recently provided a scholarship to a student of Tapeshwor Higher Secondary School in Kavre.
Jill Bowling Schlaepfer Memorial Scholarship
Recognizing the tremendous loss of leadership with the untimely and tragic death of its Conservation Director, Jill Bowling Schaepfer, WWF is helping build a new generation of conservation leaders to take on the many challenges facing Nepal in preserving its rich natural heritage. To encourage bright and promising Nepali students from ethnic, indigenous, minority, or Dalit groups to continue or pursue careers in nature conservation, each year WWF awards one scholarship in the name of Jillian Bowling Schlaepfer who would like to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Forestry program at the Institute of Forestry (IOF), Pokhara.
In honor of Jennifer Headley, who had worked in community-based conservation in eastern Nepal, and her life-long commitment to conservation, WWF established a memorial scholarship fund that will provide financial assistance to a deserving woman candidate who will pursue a bachelor's degree in forestry studies at IOF, Hetauda.
The chopper crash left a vacuum in Nepal's biosphere
AIR CRASH INVESTIGATION
The official inquiry of the crash of the Shree Airlines MI-17 helicopter 9N-AHJ cited pilot error for having taken off in overcast conditions with low clouds over the surrounding mountains. The inquiry blamed the pilot for violating flight procedures because the aircraft was certified for Visual Flight Rules only. The report also cited the crew's unfamiliarity with the terrain. The report makes no mention of Ghunsa locals who said they had heard the minister putting pressure on the flight crew to take off because he had to get back to Kathmandu that day. Soon after it took off, the helicopter disappeared into cloud and villagers heard a big bang from up the mountain. The wreckage was only located three days later after the weather cleared at an altitude of 3,990m.