Plane Crash Kills 19 In Nepal

A plane bound for the infamous Lukla airport in Nepal crashed yesterday, killing all 19 people on board. It is believed that the aircraft struck a bird shortly after takeoff from Kathmandu, resulting in the crash minutes later. This is the sixth such accident in the past two years, calling into question the level of air safety in the country.

The plane, operated by Sita Air, set off with 16 passengers and three crewmembers for the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, which is the starting point for trekkers hiking to Everest Base Camp. Shortly after departure, the air traffic controllers noticed an erratic maneuver by the aircraft and when contacted by radio the pilot indicated that they had struck a vulture. The plane was attempting to safely return to Kathmandu when it went down.

Reports indicate that there were seven passengers aboard from both the U.K. and Nepal, while the other five people were Chinese nationals. Most were there on holiday and were preparing to trek in the Himalaya Mountains.

Over the past two years, 120 people have been killed in similar accidents throughout the region. Most were either on their way to or from the airport in Lukla at the time. According to the BBC, Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has vowed to improve safety and prevent similar accidents from happening in the future, although he has not outlined exactly how he intends to improve safety just yet.

Having made that same flight a few years back, I can tell you that it is a beautiful journey into the mountains, but most of the planes look like they’ve seen their better days. At the height of the trekking season, which is just getting underway now, aircraft are constantly in and out of Lukla. That means that there are dozens of similar flights all day long, weather permitting.

Hopefully the Nepalese government will introduce a more stringent maintenance and inspection process to prevent similar problems in the future.

[Photo credit: Associated Press]

Trekkers stranded in Lukla, Nepal again

Bad weather in the Himalayas has left many travelers stranded in a remote village in Nepal this past weekend, stretching supplies and accommodations to the limit. Fortunately, improving conditions allowed for many of them to be evacuated yesterday, with those remaining are expected to return to Kathmandu today.

Last week, heavy fog and rain descended on Lukla, a small village located at 9383 feet in the Himalayas. The village has one of the few airports in the region and serves as the main gateway for adventure travelers and climbers headed to Mt. Everest and other major peaks. That airport is considered to be amongst the most dangerous in the world during the best of conditions, and the heavy fog grounded all incoming and outgoing traffic starting on October 31st. With no planes getting in or out, trekkers completing their hikes were left stranded, and by the weekend, nearly 2000 people were stuck in the mountain town.

The fog and rain finally lifted yesterday, allowing aircraft to start shuttling trekkers out of the mountains at last, but the final groups weren’t expected to be airlifted until today. Other travelers elected to continue their hike on to the village of Jiri, a four day journey that would allow them to return to Kathmandu via bus and thereby avoid any further weather delays.

This is the second year in a row that the weather has left travelers stranded in Lukla. In November of last year thick fog prevented planes from getting in and out of the town as well, forcing the Nepali army to eventually use helicopters to facilitate the evacuation process. Fall in the Himalaya is a popular time for trekking, but the weather can be a bit unpredictable as the region transitions from the summer monsoons to the clear, cold of winter.

Having visited Lukla in the spring of 2010, it boggles my mind to think that there were more than 2000 people stranded there. The town is meant to be a brief stop over for those coming and going from Everest, and really isn’t set-up to accommodate that many visitors at one time. Judging from the reports, it seems everyone made it through just fine, but I’m sure there were some cramped quarters and cozy accommodations for a few days.