Chopper hits mountain near EverestHelicopter crash kills 6, highlights dangers of monsoon flights in Nepal
Another deadly crash has once more highlighted the dangers of flying in Nepal’s challenging topography during the monsoon.
Five Mexican tourists and their Nepali pilot were killed on Tuesday morning when the Airbus H125 belonging to Manang Air crashed in a flight from Surke to Kathmandu amidst overcast monsoon skies. The wreckage was found on Lamjura Pass at an altitude of 4,200m at the foothills of Mt Everest.
The five Mexican tourists were all from one family. Father, mother, two daughters and a son. They had come to Nepal to do a sight-seeing flight of Mt Everest.
Flying in Nepal amidst the highest mountains in the world is already difficult, and the aviation authorities allow pilots to only fly visually because of the lack of navigation aids in remote areas.
Surke is located in the Dudh Kosi Valley only 6 minute flying time below Lukla airfield, and is used as an alternative landing site for helicopters in poor weather. Eastern Nepal has been battered by heavy monsoon rains since mid-June, and the weather on Tuesday morning was poor.
The H125 belongs to the AS350 B3 Ecureuil family of helicopters and is especially designed for high-altitude performance in mountain rescue. Manang Air has two helicopters, and this one with call sign 9N AMV was acquired brand new in 2018. On Tuesday it was being flown by Capt Chet B Gurung, the same pilot who ferried it from the Airbus assembly plant in Singapore five years ago.
The cause of the crash is not yet known, but 90% of the aviation disasters in Nepal are due to CFIT (Controlled Flight into Terrain) in which an airworthy aircraft collides with mountains hidden by clouds. An analysis of all crashes in the past 60 years shows that a majority have occurred during the monsoon months from June to September.
Records show that there have been 941 fatalities in 73 air crashes in Nepal since 1962, and of these, at least 10 have involved helicopters in which 77 people have been killed. This does not include a Royal Nepal Army MI17 that went down during the Maoist conflict in 2005 and another mishap in which a Summit Air Let410 collided with a helicopter at Lukla airport in 2018 killing two.
The worst helicopter disaster was in 2006 when 24 people, including Nepal’s top conservationists, diplomats and international experts were killed when a MI17 piloted by two Russians crashed in Ghunsa after hitting a mountain near Mt Kanchenjunga during the monsoon.
Five of the six on board the Manang Air helicopter have been found at Chihan Danda on Lamjura Pass. The sixth person has not yet been found.
This is the deadliest crash in Nepal since the Yeti Air ATR-72 crash on 15 January 2023 near Pokhara airport in which 72 passengers and four crew were killed. In 2016 and 2022 there were two almost identical crashes involving Tara Air Twin Otters on Pokhara Jomsom flights in bad weather.
Air accident investigations in the past have almost always blamed violation of Visual Flying Rules (VFR) at all times in the mountains as the main cause. Usually, crew underestimates the severity of en route weather, and aviation experts say new GPS and cockpit avionics give them a false sense of security about their location.
Manang Air video here: https://www.manangair.com.np/video-gallery/