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Nepal plane crash: Search and rescue continues with at least 68 dead


Hundreds of emergency personnel resumed the search for four missing people on Monday following a fatal plane crash in Nepal which has once again highlighted the dangers of air travel in a country often considered one of the riskiest places to fly.

Of the 72 people on board, at least 68 were killed when the Yeti Airlines flight crashed near the city of Pokhara on Sunday – the worst air disaster in the Himalayan nation in 30 years. It was also the third worst aviation accident in Nepal’s history, according to data from the Aviation Safety Network.

Experts say conditions such as bad weather, low visibility and mountainous topography contribute to Nepal’s notoriously dangerous reputation for aviation.

On Sunday, the Yeti Airlines flight had nearly completed its short journey from the capital Kathmandu to Pokhara when it lost contact with a control tower. About 15 foreign nationals were on board, according to the country’s civil aviation authority.

Pokhara, a lakeside city, is a popular tourist destination and a gateway to the Himalayas. It serves as the starting point for the famous Annapurna Circuit trekking route, with over 181,000 foreigners visiting the region in 2019.

A government committee is currently investigating the cause of the accident, with the help of the French authorities. The Yeti Airlines aircraft was manufactured by the aerospace company ATR, headquartered in France.

The capricious weather conditions are not the only problem for flight operations. According to a safety report 2019 from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, the country’s “hostile topography” is also part of the “enormous challenge” facing pilots.

Nepal, a country of 29 million people, is home to eight of the 14 tallest mountains in the world, including Everest, and its beautiful rugged landscapes make it a popular tourist destination for trekkers.

But this terrain can be difficult to navigate from the air, especially in bad weather, and matters are made worse by the need to use small aircraft to access the more remote and mountainous parts of the country.

Planes with 19 seats or less are more likely to have accidents due to these challenges, according to the Civil Aviation Authority report.

Kathmandu is the main hub in Nepal, where many of these small flights depart from.

The airport in the city of Lukla in northeastern Nepal is often referred to as the the most dangerous airport in the world. Known as the gateway to Everest, the airport runway is laid out on the cliffside between the mountains, plunging straight into an abyss at the end. It has had several fatal accidents over the years, including in 2008 and 2019.

A lack of investment in aging aircraft only adds to the risks of theft.

In 2015, the International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the United Nations, prioritizing aid to Nepal through its Aviation Safety Implementation Assistance Partnership. Two years later, ICAO and Nepal announced a partnership to address safety issues.

Although the country has improved its security standards in recent years, challenges remain.

In May 2022, a Tara Air flight departing from Pokhara crashed into a mountainkilling 22 people.

In early 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines flight from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, to Kathmandu crashed on landing and burst into flames, killing 51 of the 71 people on board.

And in 2016, a Tara Air flight crushed as it took the same route as the plane that was lost on Sunday. This incident involved a recently acquired Twin Otter aircraft flying in light conditions.

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