The last journey
The tragic irony of the helicopter crash on Wednesday was that among the seven dead were a civil aviation minister who was striving to improve Nepal’s air safety record, and the country’s foremost airline executive.
Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari was one of the few members of the NCP government with a clean, can-do image. He revived the construction of two languishing international airports in Pokhara and Lumbini, improved and removed bottlenecks at Kathmandu airport. He was involved in important air route negotiations and was lobbying to remove Nepal from the EU blacklist. He was set to attend the ITB Berlin next week to promote the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, for which he had set a target of 2 million tourists.
Ang Tshiring Sherpa was the founder of Yeti Airlines and also owned the Air Dynasty helicopter that struck the side of Pathibhara mountain in Taplejung during a snowstorm on 27 February. He was the Nepali partner of Himalaya Airlines, a joint venture with Tibet Airlines and managed hotels in the Khumbu, Gokarna Resort and Kasara in Chitwan.
Pilot Prabhakar KC had reportedly radioed Suketar Tower reporting heavy snowfall. Although it is too early to speculate, former CAAN director Triratna Manandhar says having a minister and his own boss among his passengers may have put undue psychological pressure on KC to get them out of the 3,800m mountain top shrine.
Minister Adhikari himself is said to have had misgivings at an earlier airport inspection stop in Tehrathum about the deteriorating weather, and was reluctant to fly to Pathibhara. Eye-witnesses said the Airbus Helicopter H125 crashed 1 minute after taking off in heavy snow, hitting the side of a cliff. Whether it was controlled flight into terrain, or icing on the rotors will have to await an investigation.
Adhikari’s hometown of Pokhara is in shock, and the minister was set to be cremated in Kaski on Thursday. The crash has cost the lives of the prime movers of Visit Nepal 2020, and Nepal Tourism Board CEO Deepak Raj Joshi is devastated. He told Nepali Times: “This is an irrecoverable loss, he was devoted to the campaign, and worked tirelessly to improve aviation infrastructure.”
It was also a tragic reminder of another disaster 25km away in September 2006 in which 24 people were killed when a helicopter hit a mountain soon after takeoff from Ghunsa in bad weather. Nearly all of Nepal’s conservation pioneers perished, including Harka Gurung, Chandra Gurung, Mingma Sherpa, and Tirthaman Maskey. Jillian Bowling Schlaepfer and Jennifer Headley of the WWF also died, as did Pauli Mustonen, the Finnish charge d’affaires in Kathmandu (below).
Read also: Their souls march on, Bhrikuti Rai and Stuti Sharma
An investigation then had showed that the Russian pilots of the MI-8 were unfamiliar with local terrain and may have been under pressure from the State Minister of Forests Gopal Rai to get back to Kathmandu.
- Ramesh Kumar and Gopal Gartaula