Three dead after Nepali aircraft hit helicopters while taking off

A small plane of the company Summit Air crashed during takeoff after colliding with two parked helicopters. The accident killed three people and injured three.

On April 15, 2019, a Summit Air Let 410, registered 9N-AMH, was taking off from Lukla-Tenzing-Hillary Airport (LUA) for Ramechhap Airport (RHP), Nepal, when it hit two helicopters that were parked on a helipad near the runway.

The co-pilot of the aircraft and a policeman on the ground were killed instantly. Another policeman died later in Kathmandu hospital. Three people, including the captain of the flight and a helicopter pilot of the company Manang Air, were injured. The plane and one of the helicopters were damaged beyond repair.

The Kathmandu Post released CCTV footage of the incident where the plane can be seen suddenly veering towards the helipad.

An investigation has been opened, which will have to determine why the aircraft veered right while taking off and hit helicopters on the helipad, situated about 100 meters past the runway threshold. Weather conditions at the time of the crash were described as good.

Lukla-Tenzing-Hillary Airport is famous for being the entry point of many hikers and mountaineers on their way to Mount Everest. Traffic peaks around April, when the climbing season starts. But the place is also known for its dangerousness: the airport is situated in a mountainous area, at 2845 meters of altitude (9333 feet), and is surrounded by high peaks.

Moreover, the airport does not have a radar system, or an Instrument Landing System (ILS). The runway, 526 meters (1,729 feet) long and 91 meters (300 feet) wide, has an inclination of 11.7%. Only short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft are allowed to operate.

The Let L-410 Turbolet is a 19-seater twin- turbo aircraft developed and built by the Czech company Let Kunovice. It entered service in 1970.

On 27 May 2017, another Let 410, registered 9N-AKY and operated by Goma Air on a cargo flight from Kathmandu-Tribhuvan Airport (KTM) impacted terrain as it was approaching Lukla runway. The aircraft descended too early in poor visibility conditions. Both pilots were killed. A third crew member sustained severe injuries.

On October 8, 2008, a DHC-6 Twin Otter, registered 9N-AFE and operated by Yeti Airlines crashed on final approach after its landing gear hit the perimeter fence of the airport. Eighteen people died, including sixteen tourists and two crew members. The sole survivor was one of the pilots.

All Nepali airlines are banned from operating within the European Union since 2013. The decision was renewed in December 2018, after no improvement was observed in safety oversight by Nepal’s aviation regulator.

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