Fatal accident in Nepal

My condolences to all those people who have been affected by the catastrophic aircraft accident in Nepal. On-board the ATR 72 aircraft operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines were 72 people – 4 crew members and 68 passengers.

The aircraft took off from Kathmandu at 10:33 (local time) on Sunday. At around 11:00, while on approach to the airport the twin-engine ATR 72 crashed into a riverbed gorge located between the former airport (VNPK) and new international airport (VNPR). Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said the aircraft last contacted the airport at 10:50. There are no reports of distress calls from the aircraft before the accident.

As only a short time has elapsed, it’s good to hear that the accident flight recorders have been discovered[1]. It is reported that they are to be sent to France for replay and analysis.

Sadly, Nepal has a grim record in respect of fatal air accidents. There have been 42 fatal air accidents since 1946[2]. Poor weather and hazardous terrain can often be a problem in this nation. However, in the case of this tragic flight, video circulating on social media indicates clear skies at the time of the accident.

Nepal became a member of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) back in 1960. Nepal’s improvement in safety measures and compliance with international standards was recognised by ICAO in 2018. However, Nepal remains on the EU Air Safety List.

Prior to the accident, Yeti Airlines has 6 ATR 72 aircrafts, aged between 11 and 15 years old.

The new international Pokhara Airport[3], was inaugurated on the 1st January, this year by Nepal’s Prime Minister. This was seen as a significant step to boost tourism in the region. The airport project was a cooperation as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)[4]. The new international airport was built to replace the city’s former airport, located 1.6 nm to the West. Flights were gradually being transferring to the new airport facility[5].

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has checked the airworthiness of the ATR aircraft on its register. No technical faults have been found[6].

POST: Teams of aviation experts, including those from ATR and EASA are on their way to Nepal to help in the accident investigation French team starts probe into Nepal plane crash (msn.com)

[1] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/search-resumes-four-people-missing-nepal-after-deadly-air-crash-2023-01-16/

[2] according to Flight Safety Foundation data

[3] http://pokharaairport.com.np/

[4] https://www.telegraphindia.com/world/nepals-pokhara-airport-was-inaugurated-two-weeks-ago-and-built-with-chinese-assistance/cid/1910031

[5] https://aviationweek.com/air-transport/safety-ops-regulation/yeti-airlines-atr-72-crash-nepal-kills-least-68

[6] https://nepalnews.com/s/nation/caan-carries-out-technical-tests-on-all-atr-aircraft-operational

Responding to tragedy

News has come in of a tragic aviation aircraft accident in China. A relatively young Boeing 737 aircraft has been lost with all soles on-board. The Boeing 737-800 (B-1791) was built in 2015. As is often the case, social media is full of speculation. Even at the earliest moments after this catastrophic event, comment was being made of the limited information available.

There is a divide. Some people, out of respect for those who have perished make a point of saying that they will not speculate around the information that’s public. Other responses fit into a couple of camps. Let’s just say that there’s informed comment and ill-informed comment.

It’s reasonable to feel that ill-informed comment can step over into the realms of the disrespectful and inconsiderate. That rarely daunts a lot of users of social media.

A first response should be one of compassion. When a great number of passenger and crew fatalities occur the question of – why has this happened? Will come up soon enough. In the first instance a tragedy deserves a moment of reflection. It’s our natural human empathy. The pain and suffering of the families and friends of those who are not coming home, should be at the front of our minds.

After a moment has passed the call for action is rightly the next most urgent response. However, action based on scant information is a most difficult step. Often, such actions are precautionary. Imagining, the worst-case scenario, like the potential for reoccurrence of the accident, and then act accordingly. The cry is rightly – something must be done.

At this stage, as an aviation professional I have no problem with informed speculation. In this fast-moving digital world, that we live in, the flow of information is like a torrent. It cannot be easily stopped. At least not in our free and open societies. Therefore, it’s better that informed comment be given a space, otherwise the ill-informed variety will dominate.

Comments appear not only on the fatal accident but the response that has followed. That can be tough to hear when the first responders, emergency services, investigators and regulators get armchair critics commentating immediately on their performance.

Again, I’m not going to say this should stop. Transparency is vital if the public are to have confidence in the civil aviation. So, tolerating rough commentary that turns out to be wrong is part of the realpolitik. Although, it would be good if such commentors admitted when they had got it wrong.

Post tragic event, as information flows start to become more reliable so informed comment becomes more of an honest reflection of what happened. It’s as well to be remind that fatal aviation accidents with the loss of all on-board are rare. It’s always crucial to analyse what happened and act rapidly to prevent any possibility of reoccurrence. Whatever the commentary and speculation, that must not effect the work of the bodies who have the responsibility to take corrective action.