The Nepal tragedy

TRAGEDY struck in Nepal last week when a domestic flight operated by Yeti Airlines plummeted into a steep gorge in the tourist town of Pokhara. The flight had taken off from the country’s capital, Kathmandu, and was close to landing when it crashed. With at least 72 casualties, among them 15 foreign nationals, it was the worst air crash in three decades in the small Himalayan country. In 1992, a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A300 had crashed into a hillside just before Kathmandu, sending all the 167 people on board to their early graves. It was a terrible sight last week as hundreds of rescue workers scoured the hillside site of the crash, with some getting scorched by flames from the ill-fated aircraft. The accident was particularly confounding because the weather had been quite clement.

According to reports, the co-pilot of the ill-fated flight, Anju Khatiwada, had lost her husband, Dipak Pokhrel, in a 2006 plane crash. Pokhrel had also been co-piloting a Yeti Airlines flight when he died. The plane was carrying food to the western town of Jumla when it burst into flames, killing all the nine people on board. Rather than getting bowed by the incident, Anju opted to take up a career as a pilot in 2010. She had flown close to 6,400 hours before tragedy struck. Such a sad story!

On January 16, the day after the crash, authorities visiting the newly inaugurated airport were alarmed as a plane plying the same Kathmandu-Pokhara route struck a steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis) close to the airport. This incident has led to suggestions by various international experts that there is a link between the January 15 crash and bird strike. In any case, conservationists have, for some time, been reported to have voiced concerns over the large number of birds, especially vultures, in the area near the airport, given the risks posed to aviation safety and wildlife conservation.

Naturally, world leaders have been expressing their condolences to the Nepali government and people since the incident occurred. Mourning the dead in a letter sent to President Bidya Devi Bhandari , Britain’s King Charles said: “My wife and I were truly shocked to learn of the utterly tragic loss of life following the plane crash in Pokhara on Sunday and wanted you to know that our special thoughts and prayers are with you and the people of Nepal at this time of immeasurable sorrow.” In the same vein, China’s President Xi Jinping, in a message of condolence addressed to President Bhandari, expressed his shock over the incident. On behalf of the Chinese government and people, he extended deep condolences to the victims and sincere sympathies to their bereaved families. Russian president, Vlamir Putin, also offered “words of sincere sympathy and support to the families and friends of the victims of this terrible plane crash.” On its part, the Papacy, speaking through the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said the Pope was “saddened by the crash of the Yeti Airlines aircraft near Pokhara” and expressed his condolences to all those “affected by this tragedy, together with his prayers for those involved in the recovery efforts.”

As Nepal mourns the departed, we join the world in extending our condolences to the Nepalese government and people, and especially to the friends and families of the victims. The incident aborted many dreams and left spaces that are difficult, if not impossible, to fill in the lives of the affected families. In this regard, we call on the government to extend to them all the support they may need in burying the dead and forging ahead with their lives. In the same vein, we urge the government to study the recommendations by the regulatory bodies investigating the incident and take steps to implement them rigorously with a view to minimising, if not eliminating, air crashes in the country. In particular, the issue of birds clogging the space around or close to the airport has to be decisively addressed. There is apparently a need to firm up the regulations surrounding air travel in the country in order to prevent a recurrence. And this would evidently include ensuring that all regulatory bodies are up to their tasks and responsibilities. We also call on the international community to give the country whatever assistance it needs in this regard, taking into cognizance the fact that air safety is something that needs international collaboration, and cannot be left to a single country to handle.

May the souls of the victims rest in sweet repose.

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