On Tuesday morning, an Airbus H125 helicopter owned by Manang Air plummeted into the mountainside near Everest, resulting in the tragic deaths of five Mexican tourists and their Nepali pilot. When disaster struck, the ill-fated flight was en route from Surke to Kathmandu, battling overcast monsoon skies. The wreckage was discovered at an elevation of 4,200 meters on Lamjura Pass, nestled at the foothills of the iconic Mt Everest.
The deceased tourists belonged to a single family unit, comprising a father, mother, two daughters, and a son. Their purpose for visiting Nepal was to partake in a sight-seeing expedition of the renowned Mt Everest.
Manang Air helicopter 9N-AMV crashed at Lamjura, Solukhumbu. As per local police, 5 dead bodies found. On-board list:
1)Capt. C.B. GURUNG
2)Mr. SIFUENTES G. FERANDO
3)Ms. GONZALEZ ABRIC
4)Ms. GONZALEZ OLACIO LUZ
5)Ms. SIFUENTES G. MARIA JOSE
6)Mr. RINCON ISMAEL
— Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (@hello_CAANepal) July 11, 2023
Flying in Nepal, amidst the world’s tallest peaks, is inherently challenging, and pilots are only permitted to rely on visual navigation due to the absence of adequate aids in remote areas.
Surke, situated in the Dudh Kosi Valley, lies a mere six minutes of flight time beneath Lukla airfield, serving as an alternate landing site for helicopters during adverse weather conditions. However, eastern Nepal has been relentlessly battered by heavy monsoon rains since mid-June, and Tuesday morning’s weather was particularly unfavorable.
The ill-fated helicopter, an H125 belonging to the AS350 B3 Ecureuil family renowned for its high-altitude capabilities in mountain rescues, was one of two in Manang Air’s fleet. Acquired brand new in 2018, this specific aircraft bore the call sign 9N AMV and was piloted by Captain Chet B Gurung, who had ferried it from the Airbus assembly plant in Singapore half a decade earlier.
While the cause of the crash remains unknown, statistics indicate that a staggering 90% of aviation disasters in Nepal stem from CFIT (Controlled Flight into Terrain) accidents, wherein an airworthy aircraft collides with obscured mountains due to cloud cover. Examining crashes spanning the past six decades reveals a majority occurring during the monsoon months between June and September.
Disturbingly, Nepal has witnessed a total of 73 air crashes resulting in 941 fatalities since 1962. Among these incidents, at least ten involved helicopters, claiming the lives of 77 individuals. Notably absent from this count are a Royal Nepal Army MI17, which went down during the Maoist conflict in 2005, and a collision between a Summit Air Let410 and a helicopter at Lukla airport in 2018, resulting in two fatalities.
The most catastrophic helicopter disaster transpired in 2006 when a MI17 helicopter, manned by two Russians, crashed into a mountain near Mt Kanchenjunga during the monsoon, claiming the lives of 24 people, including esteemed conservationists, diplomats, and international experts.
Rescue teams have recovered the remains of five out of the six individuals aboard the ill-fated Manang Air helicopter at Chihan Danda on Lamjura Pass. However, efforts to locate the remaining person are still underway.
This incident stands as the deadliest crash in Nepal since the Yeti Air ATR-72 disaster on January 15, 2023, near Pokhara airport, which claimed the lives of 72 passengers and four crew members. Additionally, similar crashes transpired in 2016 and 2022, involving Tara Air Twin Otters on Pokhara-Jomsom flights amidst adverse weather conditions.
Historically, air accident investigations in Nepal have consistently attributed violations of Visual Flying Rules (VFR) in mountainous regions as the primary cause. Often, crews underestimate the severity of weather conditions along their route, with aviation experts pointing out that modern GPS and cockpit avionics can create a false sense of security regarding their precise location.
For a video of Manang Air, please visit their official website: https://www.manangair.com.np/video-gallery/