By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times –
NEW DELHI — A small plane with 21 people aboard crashed in Nepal on Monday morning, killing 15, including the pilot and co-pilot. The accident, involving a Dornier 228 aircraft operated by Agni Air, occurred near Jomsom Airport about 125 miles northwest of Kathmandu.
The charter flight from the city of Pokhara to Jomsom carried 16 Indian tourists, two Danish tourists and three Nepali crew members. Two Indian children, ages 6 and 9, and their 45-year-old male Indian relative, all with the surname Kidambi, survived and were listed in serious or critical condition, along with a Danish man and woman who were not immediately identified and a flight attendant, according to the Indian and Danish embassies in Katmandu.
The survivors were flown by helicopter to nearby Pokhara and admitted to the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, according to Apoorva Srivastava, an Indian Embassy official.
Narayan Dattakoti, a deputy inspector general of police, told reporters that early indications were that the aircraft was in good condition, although the terrain was challenging and the winds a bit stronger than usual. An investigation has been launched, he said.
The crash of the 11-year old aircraft reportedly occurred as the pilot was attempting a landing at the high-altitude Jomsom Airport, a gateway for trekkers and religious pilgrims.
The fuselage reportedly broke into pieces, although it did not catch fire. “The captain made a left turn and crashed into the mountain,” Dattakoti said.
Nepal’s prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, offered his condolences in a statement.
Impoverished Nepal with its weak regulatory structure, challenging topography and fast-building storms, has seen several aviation accidents in recent years, most involving small aircraft. Fly-around tours of Mt. Everest and other top Himalayan peaks are popular with tourists.
Harshwardhan, an aviation expert and former Air India pilot who uses only one name, said the fact that the airplane crashed into a mountain tends to point to some sort of pilot error. “We’re seeing too many accidents of a similar nature in a short period of time,” he said.
A fundamental problem in India and Nepal is that bureaucrats tend to oversee civil aviation rather than independent safety boards, said M.R. Wadia, former president of the Mumbai-based Federation of Indian Pilots, an industry group.
In August 2010, a Dornier 228 operated by Agni Air crashed 20 minutes south of Katmandu in bad weather, killing 14 people, including four Americans, a Japanese and a British national. And in September 2011, a Buddha Air plane ferrying tourists on a sightseeing trip around Mt. Everest crashed, killing all 19 people on board.