In the past six years alone, 114 people have been killed in airline accidents in Nepal, making our aviation safety record as bad as countries that are notoriously dangerous for flying like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. The reasons are ineffective regulation, lack of a maintenance culture, poor crew training, and lax enforcement of procedures for bad weather flying.
Nepal's rugged terrain makes it one of the most challenging places to fly in the world, but monsoon clouds, inadequate navigation facilities, and the poor condition of airports make it even more treacherous. In addition, aviation in Nepal is governed by the same culture of carelessness, fatalism, and poor discipline that we see exhibited on the roads and highways every day.
We never learnt our lessons from past accidents and the recommendations of the inquiry reports after previous disasters were never implemented, so it is likely that the tragic deaths of those who perished last Friday on the soggy banks of the Manohara River will also have been in vain.
PICS: BIKRAM RAI
Post-accident crisis management has been almost non-existent in Nepal. After the Buddha Air crash last year, thousands of gawkers flocked to the impact site trampling on evidence, picking up souvenirs, and obstructing rescue and police vehicles. Eye-witnesses saw police themselves pocketing valuables from the bodies and the wreckage.
To be sure, Kot Danda villagers who were first on the scene helped pull out a wounded passenger from the plane and rushed him to hospital, where he died. But the lack of crowd control after an accident hampered rescue. People were at the scene of the Sita Air crash last week within minutes, and had they tried to get the passengers out they could have been killed as well because the plane caught fire and exploded.
However, thousands of people had gathered to look at the plane on fire, some wading across the river to get closer. The sheer mass of onlookers obstructed fire and rescue vehicles, and the first police on the scene did not cordon off the area with the standard 50-m no-go radius. Traffic police should have been keeping the road clear for rescue vehicles, but became onlookers themselves. Fire trucks had to project foam on the burning plane from 50m away. The head of the Civil Aviation Authority was busy giving live tv interviews, with the burning wreckage serving as backdrop, instead of coordinating rescue and protecting the integrity of the crash site for investigators.
There was serious mismanagement of a crisis situation last week, it showed there has been virtually no training and simulation for response that is rapid, coordinated, and multi-tasked. If this is what happens after the crash of a small plane, imagine the chaos and confusion after a bigger disaster, or a mega earthquake in Kathmandu.
Andy Joshy is a technical adviser to the Ministry of Health and Population.