Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sita Air Dornier Do-228, 9N-AHA, performing flight 601, Kathmandu, Nepal

'Panicking' pilot crashed Everest plane: officials 

AN error by a "panic-stricken" pilot likely caused the crash of a plane bound for Mount Everest that killed all 19 people on board, including British and Chinese trekkers.

The twin-propeller Sita Air plane had just taken off on Friday from Kathmandu and was headed to the town of Lukla, gateway to Mount Everest, when it plunged into the banks of a river near the city's airport around daybreak.

"The pilot's failure to maintain the required radius is a likely cause of the accident," said Nepalese government official Suresh Acharya, who revealed that the plane turned too sharply because it had not gained enough altitude.

The Dornier aircraft, which crashed minutes after take-off, was headed for Everest, the world's tallest mountain.

The plane's right engine burst into flames after being hit by a large bird, causing the aircraft to plummet into the river bank and explode into a huge fireball.

"The preliminary finding of the Civil Aviation Authority notices unusual manoeuvring during the take-off and the pilot communicated to air traffic control the aircraft was hit by a bird," Acharya said.

"But a plane crash does not occur simply just because its engine was hit by a bird."

Acharya noted incidents in which one engine of a twin-engine aircraft failed and the plane was still able to land safely.

"The pilot may have been panic-stricken and made a steep narrow turn instead of forming a wider radius required to bring the malfunctioning aircraft back to the runway," he said.

Acharya, a member of a government commission due to report on the cause of the crash within three months, said the pilot should have gained more altitude before trying to return to the airport.

The foreigners all arrived in Nepal on Wednesday and had been slated to begin trekking towards Everest Base Camp on Saturday accompanied by local guides on an expedition organised by English company Explore Worldwide.

Police said the victims were piled up at the cockpit end of the wreckage, the Kathmandu Post reported, indicating they had either failed to fasten their safety belts or took them off before hitting the ground.

The youngest British victim was Ben Ogden, a 27-year-old Oxford University graduate who had just qualified as a solicitor and was a rising star at a London law firm.

His father Andrew was quoted in Britain's Daily Telegraph as saying his son wanted the trip to be "his big adventure" before he "knuckled down to some serious work" and life with his girlfriend of eight years.

Another tourist who died in the crash had United States citizenship, the airline said on Saturday.

Student Wu Hui, 27, of California, was named among five Chinese dead in the crash, which also killed seven Britons, but Sita Air said his passport recovered at the crash site revealed he was an American of Chinese origin.

"One American citizen of Chinese origin was among the 12 foreigners who died in the Sita Air crash yesterday," Sita Air spokesman Deependra Shahi said.

"Seven Britons, four Chinese and seven Nepalis including three crews are the other deceased in the crash. The trekking agency is in touch with us and some relatives have arrived Kathmandu to collect the body of the deceased Britons.

"We are expecting to be in touch with (the) Chinese side too for the handover of the bodies."

It was the sixth fatal plane crash in Nepal in two years and has raised fresh questions about air safety in the impoverished Himalayan country, home to challenging weather, treacherous landing strips and lax safety standards.

The crashes have killed about 100 people, according to an AFP tally.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday called the crash "a horrific incident" and said "I feel for the families concerned".

Nepal has a poor road network, meaning many tourists, pilgrims and climbers rely on the country's 16 domestic airlines and 49 airports to reach remote areas.

 'Airhostess could have saved lives' 

Kathmandu: The black box of an ill-fated Nepalese plane that crashed killing all 19 people on board was recovered on Saturday and officials citing a bird hit and an error by a "panic-stricken" pilot as possible causes of the tragedy.

Police handed over the black box data recorder of the Dornier aircraft that crashed near the Kathmandu airport yesterday to the committee investigating the accident.

The Sita Airways' plane had just taken off from Kathmandu and was headed to Lukla, the gateway to the Mount Everest, when it crashed into the banks of Manahara river yesterday morning.

Among the dead were seven Britons, five Chinese and seven local passengers and crew. "We have taken out the data recorder and handed it over to the civil aviation authorities," Nepal police spokesman Binod Singh said.

All those killed were trekkers heading towards Khumbi area near the Mt Everest and their Nepalese trekking guides, who were killed in the plane crash.

Although the exact cause of the crash is still unknown, the manager of Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu has informed that the pilot had reported hitting a bird, minutes before the crash.

Although the official report on the crash is yet to come out, officials here also speculated that a human error might be one of the causes behind the crash.

An official at the Ministry of Tourism said that an error by a "panic-stricken" pilot likely caused the crash killing 16 passengers and three crew members on board.

"The pilot's failure to maintain the required radius might have caused the accident, as the plane turned too sharply without gaining adequate altitude," said a senior official at the ministry.

Eye witnesses described hearing the screams of passengers and seeing flames coming out from one of the plane's wings moments before it hit the ground.

Another airport staff said the life of the passengers could have been saved had the airhostess been well trained.

"As the plane caught fire only after hitting the ground, if the airhostess had guided the passengers towards the safe place and opened the door it might have saved many lives," said the official preferring anonymity.

The airhostess, who was one of the crew members who died in the crash, had joined the airlines just six month ago.

  Timothy Oakes, 57, was a keen mountaineer. 
Photo: Oakes family

 A Cheshire man killed in a Nepal plane crash was on the trip of a lifetime and died doing something he always wanted to do, his tearful wife has said.

The death of keen mountaineer Timothy Oakes, 57, in the disaster in Kathmandu should not deter other people from going on similar expeditions, Angie Gaunt said.

Mr Oakes died alongside fellow Britons Raymond Eagle, 58, who lived in Macclesfield, Cheshire and worked with disabled people, Christopher Davey, 51, Vincent Kelly, 50, Darren Kelly, 45, Stephen Holding, 60, and Benjamin Ogden, 27, an up-and-coming lawyer from London.

Speaking from their semi-detached family home in the Cheshire village of Winwick, near Warrington, Ms Gaunt said she and their daughter were mourning their loss.

"Tim was a mountaineer. He lived life to the full and died doing something he always wanted to do," she said.

"It should never deter people from living out their dreams.

"He was a mountaineer and he always wanted to go to Everest base camp, not climb it, to go to the base camp, and that's what he was doing.

"He was going because he always wanted to see Everest. It was the trip of a lifetime, he had always wanted to do it. If you love the mountains, it is the ultimate."

She added that Mr Oakes was with a very close friend from his schooldays on a trip run by a tour company he held in very high esteem.

"When you live, if you live your life to the full, you take risks," she said.

Seven Britons killed when a small plane crashed shortly taking off from the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, have been identified by a local travel company.

Sherpa Adventures said Raymond Eagle, 58, Christopher Davey, 51, Vincent Kelly, 50, Darren Kelly, 45, Timothy Oakes, 57, Stephen Holding, 60, and Benjamin Ogden, 27, were among the 19 people killed.

Five Chinese and seven Nepalese also died when the twin-engine propeller-driven Dornier aircraft crashed.

The group had arrived in Nepal on Wednesday and were due to begin trekking in the northeastern Khumbu region, around Mount Everest.

The Foreign Office said the families of the victims had been informed.

Owned by private firm Sita Air, the plane had taken off for Lukla in the Everest region when it plunged into the banks of the Manohara River near Tribhuvan Airport.

Explore Worldwide said seven of the passengers on the plane had organised their trips through the Farnborough-based adventure travel company. Their Nepalese tour guide was also on the flight.

Ashley Toft, Explore's Managing Director, said: "We are devastated by this news. Our thoughts are very much with the families of those affected, both in the UK and in Nepal.

"The basic facts are that Sita Air operates scheduled flights and is approved by airline authorities. The weather was good. The plane was departing for Lukla and our passengers were heading for Everest Base Camp at the start of their trek."

The pilot reported trouble two minutes after take-off in clear weather and Kathmandu airport official Ratish Chandra Suman said the plane had hit a bird.

"Immediately after the take-off, the air traffic controllers noticed the aircraft making unusual manoeuvres," he said.

"When the controller asked the pilot about it, he said the plane had struck a bird."

Nepal Police spokesman Binod Singh said: "The pilots seem to have tried to land it safely on the banks of the river but unfortunately the plane caught fire."

Nepal police officer Rajan Adhikari said: "The plane was engulfed in flames when we arrived."

Local television channels showed dozens of soldiers and police officers picking through the smouldering wreckage of the aircraft with a large crowd of shocked bystanders watching.

A number of badly-burned bodies were laid in a line a few metres from the plane's shattered fuselage.

A witness told Kantipur Television: "I was just walking and saw a plane landing. It was on fire and I even heard people inside the plane screaming."

Harimaya Tamang, who lives near the crash site, said: "The plane hit the ground, bounced once but it did not break.

"The plane was already on fire, the local people rushed with buckets and tried to put out the flames but it was too hot and people could not get close enough."

It is the sixth fatal crash in Nepal in less than two years. Aircraft and pilots often have to contend with bad weather and difficult landing strips in the Himalayan nation.

Britain's Ambassador To Nepal John Tucknott visited the hospital where the bodies of the victims were taken.

He told Sky News: "Our thoughts at the moment are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives."

Asked about the cause of the crash, he said: "This is not the time to speculate, obviously there will be an air crash investigation and clearly we will have to wait to see what they find caused the air crash."

Thousands of Westerners head to the Himalayas every year to trek in the region around Mt Everest, the world's highest peak. Autumn is the peak climbing season in Nepal.

More than 377,000 tourists arrived in Kathmandu in the first eight months of this year, according to the tourism board.

The country has a poor road network and large numbers of tourists, pilgrims and climbers rely on Nepal's 16 domestic airlines and 49 airports to reach remote areas. 

Kathmandu: Kumar Magar, a passenger traveling without a ticket, was among the 19 people who were killed in an air crash Friday here, a media report said. 

 Magar, a Nepalese soldier, had boarded the plane without the ticket, News agency reported.

Nineteen passengers, including 12 foreigners, were killed when the Dornier Aircraft 9N-AHA of Sita Air crashed minutes after taking-off from Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport.


 NBC News wire reports — A plane carrying trekkers to the Everest region crashed and caught fire just after takeoff Friday in Nepal's capital, killing 19 people.

The victims included British, Chinese and Nepali passengers, authorities said.

The pilot of the domestic Sita Air flight reported trouble two minutes after takeoff, and Katmandu airport official Ratish Chandra Suman said the pilot appeared to have been trying to turn back.
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