For a country that counts tourism as both its biggest industry and largest source of foreign revenue, Nepal sure has an abysmal record for aviation safety. This was made all too clear Sunday afternoon when a Nepal Airlines flight out of the tourist town of Pokhara crashed into the mountains of western Nepal en route to the remote village of Jumla.
All 18 people on board the 40-year-old Twin Otter aircraft are believed to have died in the crash, though it took a search and rescue team 20 hours to locate the plane. Among the deceased were three crew members, one child and a Danish national.
Investigators say it will take some time to determine the cause of the crash, though Nepal is notorious for its spurious inquiries. The Netherlands-based Aviation Safety Network gives Nepal a score of just two out of 10 for accident investigation. It also receives a score of two for aviation safety legislation, implying that insufficient investigation leads to minimal action thereafter.
Perhaps that is why this Himalayan nation has witnessed 32 crashes and 700 fatalities since the 1950s. In fact, there were two fatal crashes each year between 2010 and 2012, signifying that, if anything, the problem is growing alongside passenger demand.
Kathmandu-based aviation expert Hemant Arjyal of the Nepal National Aviation Council told the AFP that it was “pretty clear that our safety has not been up to the standards.”
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“There is a tendency to investigate only if all people on board have died in the crash,” he said. “This makes the job of the investigating officials easy. Now you can blame the dead crew.”
Indeed, officials have attributed the majority of incidents in recent years to inexperienced pilots, though inadequate maintenance of old fleets and poor overall management also play a role. Arjyal said investigators needed to probe the non-fatal accidents to better understand the myriad reasons behind the nation’s appalling safety record.
The European Union may provide a catalyst for change. It banned all of Nepal’s airlines from flying into or within the EU in December, noting that the country’s safety record “does not leave us any other choice.”
“We do hope that this ban will help the aviation authorities to improve aviation safety,” EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said at the time, adding: “I have already asked the European Aviation Safety Agency to prepare an aviation safety assistance project for Nepal.”
While the United States doesn’t blacklist individual airlines, it does issue a public list of nations that it judges to fall short of international aviation safety standards. This list includes Indonesia, Serbia and the Philippines, among others, but not Nepal as none of its carriers fly to the U.S.
Timeline Of Recent Plane Crashes In Nepal
October 2013: A Chinese tourist and Nepali pilot were killed when a small plane crashed into a hill near Pokhara.
May 2013: A Nepal Airlines plane skidded off the runway at Jomsom Airport and plunged into a river, injuring 21 people, including eight Japanese tourists.
September 2012: An Everest-bound Sita Air flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Kathmandu killing 19 people, including five Chinese and seven Britons.
May 2012: Fifteen of the 21 passengers and crew aboard an Agni Air flight from Pokhara to Jomsom died when the plane crashed into the mountains. Though 13 Indian pilgrims perished, three others survived, along with two Danish tourists and the flight attendant.
September 2011: A Buddha Air sightseeing flight out of Kathmandu crashed at Kotdada Hill, killing 19 people, including 10 Indians, two Americans and one Japanese.
December 2010: A Tara Air flight crashed five minutes after taking off from Lamidanda Airport en route to Kathmandu, killing 19 passengers and three crew members. Among the fatalities were 18 Bhutanese pilgrims and one American.
August 2010: An Agni Air flight between Kathmandu and Lukla crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 14 people aboard, including four Americans, one Japanese and one Briton.