An accident involving an airplane and two parked helicopters at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, Nepal has claimed the lives of three people today. The incident occurred when an aircraft operated by Summit Air went the wrong direction, running headlong into the helicopters, resulting in the three death and three further injuries. The bodies of the deceased have already been airlifted back to Kathmandu, while those who were injured are undergoing treatment in Nepals capital as well.
The airport in Lukla is widely considered to be amongst the most dangerous in the world, largely because of its location. The approach and landing are short and steep, with the runway running up the side of the mountain. Takeoff is similarly dicey, with the end of the runway dropping off for thousands of feet as well. That said, today’s accident is unrelated to those logistical issues and appears to be the result of pilot error. Judging from reports, the crew aboard the aircraft simply got confused and turned the wrong way, running into the parked helicopters as a result.
Fortunately, there were no passengers onboard the plane as it was getting ready to take off for Manthali. That limited the number of people injured or killed to a degree, although those who did pass away included the aircraft’s co-pilot and a police inspector who was working security at Tenzing-Hillary Airport. The Summit Air vehicle and one of the helicopters was completely destroyed, while the second helicopter suffered damage.
Nepal’s air safety record is amongst the worst in the world, with frequent crashes to go along with serious delays, mechanical issues, and other challenges. This latest accident won’t help the country’s reputation any, but fortunately the casualties were kept to a minimum. Having flown in and out of Lukla in the past, I can attest to the challenges the airport brings. But, if you’re going to trek in the Khumbu region –– or plan on climbing Everest –– chances are you’re going to have to pass through Tenzing-Hillary to do so. The video below is one I shot while visiting the area a few years back.
The airport in Lukla was closed today following the accident, which meant to aircraft in or out. It is unclear how long it will remain closed however, as there are climbers and trekkers in Kathmandu who are waiting to fly to the Khumbu Valley. No doubt it will take some time to clear the wreckage, something that won’t be easy to do at the Lukla location either. This means there could be some delays for teams looking to head to Everest, although there are longer, less convenient routes to get there as well.
Hopefully things will be back up and running again soon and the rest of the flights will be safe and uneventful this season. Our condolences go out to the friends and family of those who were killed in the accident today.
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