Hundreds of emergency workers continued to search for four missing people Monday after a deadly plane crash in Nepal, again underscoring the dangers of air travel in a country often cited as one of the most dangerous places to fly.
Of the 72 people on board, the Yeti Airlines flight crashed near the city of Pokhara on Sunday, killing at least 68 people in the Himalayan nation’s deadliest air disaster in 30 years. It was also the third worst aviation accident in Nepal’s history, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
Conditions such as bad weather, low visibility and mountainous terrain have contributed to Nepal’s notorious reputation as an aviation hazard, experts say.
The Yeti Air flight had almost completed its short flight from the capital Kathmandu to Pokhara when it lost contact with the control tower on Sunday. According to the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, there were about 15 foreigners on board.
The lakeside city of Pokhara is a popular tourist destination and the gateway to the Himalayas. It is the starting point for the famous Annapurna Circuit trekking route, with more than 181,000 foreigners visiting the area in 2019.
A government commission, assisted by French authorities, is investigating the cause of the crash. Yeti Aircraft is manufactured by France-based ATR Aerospace.
Volatile weather patterns aren’t the only problem with flight operations. The country’s “harsh terrain” is also part of the “grand challenges” faced by pilots, according to a 2019 safety report by the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority.
Nepal, a country of 29 million people, is home to 8 of the world’s 14 tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, and its beautiful, rugged landscape makes it a popular tourist destination for trekkers.
But that terrain can be difficult to navigate from the air, especially in bad weather, made worse by the need to use smaller aircraft to access the country’s more remote mountains.
Because of these challenges, aircraft with 19 or fewer seats are more prone to accidents, the CAA report said.
Kathmandu is Nepal’s main transit hub, and many small flights depart from here.
The airport in the town of Lukla in northeast Nepal is often called the most dangerous airport in the world. The runway of the airport is known as the gateway to Mount Everest. Its runway is located on the edge of a cliff between mountains, and the end falls directly into the abyss. It has been involved in multiple fatal accidents over the years, including in 2008 and 2019.
A lack of investment in aging aircraft only increases the risk of flying.
In 2015, the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, prioritized helping Nepal through its Aviation Safety Implementation Assistance Partnership. Two years later, ICAO and Nepal announced a partnership to address safety concerns.
While the country has improved safety standards in recent years, challenges remain.
In May 2022, a Tara Air flight from Pokhara crashed into a mountain, killing 22 people.
In early 2018, an American-Bangladesh flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Kathmandu crashed and caught fire on landing, killing 51 of the 71 people on board.
In 2016, a Tara Air flight crashed on the same route as the plane that went missing on Sunday. The incident involved a recently acquired Twin Otter aircraft that was flown in clear conditions.