18 killed in Nepal helicopter crash (Lead)

October 8th, 2008 - 12:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Oct 8 (IANS) A helicopter carrying 19 people Wednesday crashed in Nepal’s remote mountainous north killing all but the pilot, turning the celebration of the country’s biggest festival Dashain into mourning.The 18 victims included 12 Germans, two Swiss nationals and four Nepalis. Nepali co-pilot Bikash Shrestha and air hostess Sunita Shrestha were killed in the early morning crash while pilot Surendra Kunwar was the lone survivor.

Mohan Adhikari, general manager at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, said the 9 NAFE Twin Otter belonging to private Nepali airline Yeti Airlines crashed while attempting to land at the Lukla Airport in Solukhumbu district, regarded as the gateway to Mt Everest and other Himalayan ranges.

The helicopter took off from Kathmandu at 6.51 a.m. and was going to land at the Lukla Airport, one of the most difficult airports in the world, at 7.30 a.m. when the weather deteriorated, causing the pilot to overshoot the narrow runway.

Eyewitnesses said the helicopter burst into flames immediately.

Nepal’s civil aviation authorities were initially hesitant to announce that 18 of the passengers were already dead. They said a helicopter had been rushed to the remote airport to launch rescue operations.

The Nepali pilot was flown to the capital for treatment where he was declared to be “miraculously” out of danger.

The nature of the accident has made the identification of the mangled and burnt bodies difficult, eyewitnesses said.

This is the first aviation disaster suffered by Nepal’s one-month-old Maoist government. Adhikari said the government would form a commission to probe the accident.

Yeti Airlines, a leading domestic flight operator, had tied up with Air Arabia this year to form FlyYeti, a low-cost international airline.

Nepal has a long history of air disasters, mostly caused by bad weather and human error.

In March, 10 UN staffers were killed when the helicopter ferrying them to the capital from a Maoist army cantonment crashed in Ramechhap district east of Kathmandu.

In October 2006, the world was shocked by a crash in eastern Nepal in which 24 people were killed, including Nepal’s leading conservationists, WWF officials and a Nepali minister and his wife.

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