KATHMANDU: The western tourist, who gave her name only as E Wols at the office of Agni Air in Kathmandu while booking a seat on Tuesday’s flight to Lukla, the gateway to Mt Everest, would be thanking her guardian angel that she did not catch the 7.04 am flight. About an hour after it had taken off without Wols, the 15-seater Dornier aircraft crashed in Shikarpur village in central Makwanpur village, killing all 14 people aboard.
Villagers said they had seen the small aircraft circling in the area several times before a loud explosion occurred and the debris of the aircraft began raining down. There was little chance of survivors and the army and police teams that managed to reach the crash site several hours later had the grim task of retrieving the bodies, most of which were badly maimed.
Ironically, the aircraft was flown by Captain Laxman Prasad Vikram Shaha, known as "Lucky" to his colleagues. Though Shaha reportedly tried to bring the aircraft down valiantly after it developed engine and other equipment trouble, he could not alight at the Tenzing and Hillary Airport in Lukla due to bad weather. He informed aviation authorities in Kathmandu that he would proceed to Simra on the Indo-Nepal border to try land there but thereafter, communication links with the aircraft snapped.
The three-member crew who perished included his co-pilot Sonia Singh and air hostess Sara Sherpa. There were six foreigners among the passengers: Y Hayashi (Japan), Jeremy Taylor (Britain), and four American women — Levzi Cardoso, Heather Finch, K Fallon and Irina Shekhets. The Nepali passengers who died in the crash were identified as N L Sherpa, Ishwar Rizal, K Rai, P Bhote and Prakash Amagain.
The American Embassy in Kathmandu issued a statement, offering condolences to the families of all the victims of the crash today and saying it was ready to assist the government of Nepal as needed. The embassy said it had contacted the next of kin of the four American citizens who lost their lives. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal formed a five-member committee to investigate the crash and submit its report within 65 days.
Nepal has one of the highest air accident rates in the world. In 2006, a helicopter crash in eastern Nepal killed 24 people, including the state minister for forest and soil conservation Gopal Rai and Nepal’s conservation experts. In 2008, 18 people, including 12 German tourists, were killed in the Everest region.