Comment of the Moment [This comment was originally posted by Dukhi in this blog post]
September 26th, 2006 at 9:33 pm
The government of Nepal [yesterday] declared Wednesday [today] a day of national mourning following the confirmation of the death of all 24 passengers, many of them renowned personalities in Nepali and Kathmandu based epact community, of the ill-fated Shree Airlines helicopter that crashed in Taplejung three days ago. With all respect to the passing souls, I believe that this decision of declaring a national mourning day and giving public holiday on tomorrow was unnecessary. While writing this, I don’t want to be portrayed as an insensitive and emotionless idiot but this special treatment to those who died in chopper crash has clearly done injustice to those people who had died a few weeks ago in landslide in Ulleri village of Kaski-Myagdi border. The government didn’t even mention those who died in Ulleri its cabinet meetings. The families were left alone. Yes, I am also deeply saddened by the accident and I am remembering that moment nearly three years ago when I was talking with Dr. Harka Gurung in his office about mountains of Nepal. There were other distinguished personalities in the helicopter and all of them died.
The government has not given us reason for closing down all government offices and schools and it seems this decision wasn’t based on any legal provisions but simply a political and emotional decision. Was that because so many people died? Or because so many people died in a helicopter crash? Or because there was one minister, three government employees? Or because there were some foreign personalities and a diplomats? If this is because of the death of a sitting government minister, then I have nothing to say because there must be legal provision for such rituals. If not, the state should treat all of its citizens (living and dead) equally and duly focus its attention to those who died in Ulleri village. What about those 26 people who were poor and virtually unknown to the rest of the society?
Other comments to this comment (again from the same previous blog):
Prof. Pyare Lall says:
September 26th, 2006 at 10:14 pm
Yes you are right mr. Dukhit. We have high respect for those who died and they were environmentalist and forest wildlife conservation experts but it is rediculous to daclare holiday on that basis. If we do such things we will work for 100 days only out of 365 days. This was just not at all necessary.
September 27th, 2006 at 10:58 am
Adding to your comment, I am sure the late Dr. Harka Gurung and his esteemed company would not have liked this national holiday either. They were all hard working, practical people. These are souls who would probably be honoured if the government officials agreed instead to do a full days honest and efficient work from 9am to 5pm, unlike these beureucrats who come to work at 11am and leave at 3pm. That would be tribute to these fantastic minds.
UWB: While posting these comments here, we also don’t want to be portrayed as “insensitive and emotionless idiot[s]” but we definitely don’t agree with the government in declaring today a public holiday. May all departed souls rest in peace. We will miss you all.
Nation mourns chopper crash dead
National mourning today
KATHMANDU, Sept 26 – The government on Tuesday decided to observe September 27 (Wednesday) as a day of national mourning and public holiday in memory of 24 people — that included State Minister Gopal Rai and other prominent national and international personalities — who perished in a helicopter crash on Saturday. The Cabinet meeting Tuesday decided to pay state tribute to Gopal Rai, Minister of State for Forests and Soil Conservation, and 23 others killed in the Shree Airlines helicopter that crashed at Lelep of Taplejung district.
The nation’s flag will fly at half-mast in all government offices throughout the country as well as in Nepal’s diplomatic missions abroad, the Cabinet decided. The cabinet also said the death of the state minister, Finnish diplomat, US aid workers and top national and foreign conservation experts and others on board was the “saddest moment” for Nepal and was a great loss to Nepal’s conservation sector, according to a cabinet source. (continue reading)
US closes mission on Wednesday to observe mourning: The US Embassy in Kathmandu has decided to close its mission on Wednesday to join Nepal in the day of national mourning in memory of the 24 ill-fated passengers who lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Taplejung. According to a statement issued by the Embassy, all previously scheduled events on Wednesday have been cancelled.
Similarly, the UN System in Nepal has expressed “deep sorrow” at the deaths of passengers and offered heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.A statement issued by the UN quoted UN Resident Coordinator Matthew Kahane as saying that the UN family is shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic death of “our friends and colleagues who in their mission to help the development of Nepal put their lives at risk”. “It is a terrible loss for the country and the international community,” Kahane said.
Salvage team grapples to retrieve bodies
KATHMANDU, SEPT 26: A salvage team on the ground struggled throughout Tuesday to retrieve the 24 bodies from the MI-17 helicopter that crashed Saturday in the Lelep area of Taplejung district. But the team failed to bring the bodies back to the capital today due to bad weather and rugged terrain at the crash site.The bodies are expected to arrive in the capital at around 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, if the weather remains favourable, said Mohan Adhikari, acting Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN). “The ground rescue team has already brought the bodies — most of them damaged beyond recognition — to around a kilometer down from the crash site.” The crash site is some two kilometers from the nearest helipad located in Phale. (continue reading)
An editorial piece in today’s Kathmandu Post
The human loss incurred by the country last Saturday as a result of chopper crash in Taplejung district is immense and insurmountable. The conservation and development sectors cannot produce such a dynamic, devoted and dedicated team, nor will Nepal ever have such conservationists to save the denuding Himalayas. They had worked hard to launch a US $ 1.5 billion joint Kanchanjunga project — the first model of its kind in the entire world. After five years of hard work, the project was handed over to the local communities on Saturday. This has become a lesson now on “why local communities are the real owners to preserve, protect and save our planet from denudation”. The Finnish Charge d’ Affaires, deputy director of USAID Nepal and the UK-based WWF conservationists have equally contributed to the model project. Unfortunately, the fateful Saturday snatched the entire team from our midst.
In the last five years, Nepal has witnessed a total of 17 air crashes. This, obviously, is a dreadful figure that intensifies the fear of any lay air passenger. Of them, six were involved with Russian made MI-17 choppers, no matter how the civil aviation authority has noted them. Every crash has led a setting up of commission to silence critics but no preventative measure has been taken yet. It was reported, some time ago, that the government was mulling over the banning of Russian made MI-17 choppers from carrying passengers. Why did the aviation authority pretend to be deep asleep despite a series of air crashes that have claimed several human lives? One wonders the way the government took three days to locate Saturday’s crash site. An emergency locator transmitter should have helped locate the chopper immediately after the crash. Did the MI-17 choppers have such equipment? How could the civil aviation authority let the MI-17 fly without emergency locator transmitter, if it did not have one? continue reading
Missing chopper crashed, no survivors
TAPLEJUNG/KATHMANDU, Sept 25 – After a search operation lasting two days, a rescue party on the ground on Monday found the wreckage of the missing 9N-AHJ helicopter with no survivors. The helicopter crashed on Saturday in Gabla of Taplejung district.
The helicopter was reported missing since Saturday morning when it was on a 20-minute flight from Ghunsa to Suketar in Taplejung district. Only a single body could be identified while the rest of the bodies were scattered into pieces making identification difficult. The chopper was carrying Gopal Rai, state minister for Forest and his wife; Pauli Mustonnen, charge d’affairs at the Finnish Embassy; and Dr Damodar Parajuli, acting secretary at the Ministry of Forest, among others.
“A seven-man rescue team air-dropped from an army helicopter located the crash site and contacted the helicopter while it was flying over the area on Sunday,” said officials at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN). The crash site is one-mile southwest from Ghunsa. Bad weather obstructed rescue effort. The rescue team was prevented from picking up dead bodies from the wreckage site. Rescue helicopters were also unable to land near the crash site due to poor visibility.Officials at CAAN said three helicopters are on standby at Suketar airport in Taplejung. “As soon as the weather improves, the bodies will be brought to the capital,” they said.
Meanwhile, the government formed a seven-member a committee to investigate the cause of the crash.The Committee headed by Keshari Raj Pandit, — a Patan Appellate Court judge — has been given 15 days to submit its report. The US mission to Nepal has expressed deep sorrow over the deaths of Minister of State Rai, his wife, and 22 others on board the ill-fated helicopter. “Two of our mission colleagues – Margaret Alexander and Dr Bijnan Acharya of USAID – were among the victims. They were valued colleagues and friends, and we mourn their loss,” the mission has said in the statement.
Major civilian air accidents in Nepal since 2001
Bad weather obstructing chopper search
By Krishna Regmi in Kathmandu and Dharma Poudel in Taplejung Sept 24 – Foggy weather and heavy rain has hindered the search operation for the missing helicopter of Shree Airlines in Taplejung. The helicopter with 24 people onboard has gone missing in Ghunsa area of Taplejung district since Saturday afternoon.
Five choppers – three civilian and two of the army – flew from Kathmandu Sunday, but couldn’t trace the chopper, and abandoned their operation for today. Worse, meteorologists say bad weather would continue until Monday. “Clouds have erratically and unpredictably been covering the area due to high speed winds, making it difficult for helicopters to reach the spot,” said Krishna Bhakta Manandhar, senior meteorologist at the Department of Metrology in Kathmandu.
The wind speed above 10,000 meters, the average flying height of helicopters, is 60 kilometers at a south-easterly direction. “The visibility in the area was just 200 meters,” he said. Normally, visibility should be 800 meters to fly helicopters. A search team, including 60 army and 30 police personnel, together with local people began combing the area, but nothing has been found yet.
A group of 30 locals from Ghunsa has marched towards Phaledanda to search for the missing chopper. “We heard a big bang in Phaledanda area shortly after the helicopter took off from Ghunsa,” said Daba Chand of Ghunsa. The army helicopter, RAN-53, dropped a seven-member rescue team – two from WWF and five from Nepal Mountaineering Association at Gabla in the district.
Another RAN-50, which left Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) early morning for Taplejung, was diverted to Biratnagar airport due to bad weather. Three civilian helicopters–9N-ADO of Simrik Air, 9N-AHI of Manang Air, and 9N-AGU of Dynasty Air– could not go to the site and are stationed at Suketar Airport in Taplejung. “We could not fly to Suketar Airport via the normal route due to adverse weather,” Niranjan Thapa, the captain of Simrik Air said from Taplejung. “We flew just over the Sunkoshi river and it took us 30 minutes longer than normal.”
Ending today’s aerial survey, the army helicopter went to Itahari, and the Air Dynasty chopper to Biratnagar for the night. Two private helicopters are in standby at Suketar Airport. “Despite out continued and vigorous efforts, we were unsuccessful due to poor weather conditions,” said Pradeep Gyawali, Minister for Culture, Civil Aviation and Tourism. He said a team of army and police personnel have already reached Taplethok. “We will send 70 more army and police personnel early tomorrow morning on foot to locate the chopper,” Minister Gyawali said. The helicopter disappeared on its way back to Taplejung airport from the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area.
Chopper was equipped with modern communication sets
The Shree Air chopper was equipped with sophisticated communication equipment, said aviation officials. “It was equipped with emergency locator transmitter and the crew had two satellite sets,” said Ratish Chandra Lal Suman, aviation safety director at Tribhuvan International Airport. “If the chopper had made an emergency landing somewhere, we would at least be in contact with the crew,” he said. “Officially, however, the chopper is ‘missing’ as long as it is not located,” he added.
Aerial search operation was postponed Sunday due to bad weather conditions. “However, 90 security personnel, including 60 soldiers and 30 policemen, are carrying out ground search,” said Bimalesh Karna, manager of Rescue Co-ordination Center at the airport. (source)
Chopper carrying 24 goes missing
State Minister Rai, Dr Harka Gurung, Finnish envoy on board
By Dharma Poudel in TAPLEJUNG & Krishna Regmi in KATHMANDU
TAPLEJUNG, Sept 23 – A Shree Airlines helicopter carrying 24 people has gone missing since this afternoon in Ghunsa area of Taplejung district. Gopal Rai, Minister of State for Forests and Soil Conservation, top bureaucrats, diplomats and top WWF officials were in the chopper along with a four-strong crew.
The helicopter was returning to Taplejung airport at noon after a ceremony to hand over Kangenjunga Conservation Area to the local community. The craft went out of contact in the course of its 17-minute flight to Taplejung airport. WWF Nepal had chartered the helicopter for the occasion.
It is still not clear whether the helicopter has crashed or made an emergency landing in an isolated location. “Minutes after the helicopter took off from Ghunsa, I heard a loud sound,” Himali Sherpa, a Ghunsa local, told a Post reporter in Taplejung over the phone.
Search operations continue
Bad weather- low visibility in fog and rain – has hindered the search operation. Despite several efforts, both army and civilian helicopters failed to trace the missing chopper. Two contingents of army and police personnel have been dispatched from Ghunsa and Suketar to comb the rugged mountain terrain.
A Nepal Army helicopter took off for the area at 2.34 pm from Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), but later returned due to bad weather. An Air Dynasty 9N-AGU helicopter tried to make an aerial survey of the lower reaches in Ghunsa, but to no avail. It is now on stand-by at a location around four miles from Ghunsa.
Two helicopters – the army’s RAN-53 and a 9N-AHt of Manang Air – were sent to Biratnagar at 5.27 p.m. But the Manang Air helicopter retuned to the capital due to adverse weather. “We have been working very hard, but unfortunately the weather is not on our side,” said Pradeep Gyawali, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, who was involved in coordinating and facilitating rescue operations throughout the day. “We will continue rescue operations vigorously from early tomorrow morning, mobilizing all mechanisms of the state.”
TIA is going to open at 5.45 am tomorrow, 15 minutes earlier than normal schedule to facilitate the rescue operation, said the official. Three helicopters of Simrik Air, Manang Air and the army have been put stand-by at TIA for proceeding to the area early tomorrow morning.
The missing chopper
Manang Air brought in the missing helicopter from Germany four years ago. The 24-seater has already flown 2,300 hours and carried out overhaul checking after 2,000 hours of flight, said an official at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN). “Its safety audit was carried out last July for a year’s period.” The captain, Kim Klim, who has been flying the helicopter for three years in Nepal has a good track record, Gyawali said. “He is considered one of the good captains.” The veteran pilot has flown helicopters for 10,000 hours.
Passengers on board
Gopal Rai, Minister of State for Forests and Soil Conservation Gopal Rai’s wife
Dr Damodar Parajuli, acting secretary at the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation
Narayan Poudel, director general of Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation
Sharad Rai, director general of Department of Forests Pauli Mustonnen, charge d’affaires, Finnish Embassy
Margaret Alexander, deputy director, USAID (American)
Bijnan Acharya, program
Dr Jill Bowling, conservation director, WWF UK (Australian)
Jennifer Headley, coordinator, WWF UK (Canadian)
Mingma Norbu Sherpa, managing director, EHEC, WWF US
Matthew Preece, program officer, WWF US (American)
Dr Chandra Gurung, country representative, WWF Nepal
Dr. Harka Gurung, advisor, WWF Nepal
Dr Tirtha Man Maskey,
Yeshi Lama, WWF Nepal
Vijaya Shrestha, central member, FNCCI
Hem Raj Bhandari, Nepal Television
Sunil Singh, Nepal Television
Dawa Tshering, chairperson, KCAMC
Klim Kim, Russian captain
Mingma Sherpa, captain (Nepali)
Tandu Shrestha, ac crew