A passenger plane carrying 72 passengers (including crew) has crashed on approach to Pokhara Airport in the mountains of northern Nepal. At least 69 passengers have been killed with 3 still missing.
On the morning of January 15, 2023, a Yeti Airlines ATR 72-200 operating flight YT691 from Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) to Pokhara Airport (PKR) in northern Nepal crashed on approach to the airport.
The aircraft took off from Kathmandu at approximately 10:30 a.m. local time (~04:45 UTC) before turning north and heading into the mountains toward Nepal's second-largest city. During the flight, everything appeared normal. This was until the aircraft stopped responding to ATC calls, with the last response from fight 691 coming in at 10:50 a.m. This was as the Yeti Airlines aircraft was flying over the Seti River Gorge east of the city of Pokhara - the destination city of the flight.
A video posted to social media shortly after the crash displays the final moments of the doomed flight. In the video, it is evident that something was wrong with the ATR 72, given the more-than-favorable weather conditions. The beginning of the 10-second video clearly shows the plane trying to climb. When it's apparent that it could not do so, the aircraft is seen banking sharply to the left at a rapidly increasing angle before it is heard impacting the ground.
The ATR-72 crashed on the banks of the Seti Gandaki River in a gorge approximately one kilometer away from Pokhara airport at just after 11:00 a.m. local time. Following the crash, the fuselage and aircraft remains caught fire.
Within minutes of the impact into the river gorge, first responders and civilians were on the scene searching for survivors. Over the course of the past few days, 300 rescuers have been scouring for more.
"It's unlikely there will be any survivors...teams are finding body parts at the scene..." said Tek Prasad Rai, Central Spokesperson of Nepal Police.
Of the 72 passengers and crew onboard, 57 were Nepali (including all 4 crew members), and 14 others were foreign nationals. 69 out of the 72 victims' bodies have been recovered, with possible survivors still missing. There were three children and three infants also onboard.
The crash salvaging and rescue operations are hampered by the location of the crash, which is in a steep cliff gorge
Cranes are being used to help salvage the wreckage of flight 691 as well as to lift the bodies of the dead and search for remaining survivors.
A Common Occurrence in Nepal?
Due to the country's challenging terrain (8 out of the 10 tallest mountains in the world are located here), aviation in Nepal can be quite challenging, with runways often being short due to the lack of space and approaches involving steep turns often coupled with poor weather conditions.
Questionable Aviation Regulations and Safety Records
Most Nepali airlines, including Yeti Airlines, are banned from European airspace and are placed on their "Air Safety List" over safety concerns. A case in point is the transponder onboard YT69. It was dated and supplied unreliable altitude and tracking data. This makes the investigation into the crash much more difficult to pursue.
Possible Causes of the Crash
Ground eyewitness accounts of the time between the loss of ATC communication and the crash of the Yeti Airlines flight paint a picture that shows a possible, potentially severe technical fault with the aircraft.
Khum Bahadur Chhetri states "...saw the plane trembling, moving left and right...nosedived and it went into the gorge...".
Another eyewitness, Divya Dhakal said, "...The pilot tried his best not to hit civilisation or any home...". This indicates that there was no foul play at hand, but rather a possible technical one.
The ATR 72-200 involved in the crash, registered 9N-ANC, was delivered new to Kingfisher Airlines in August of 2007. The aircraft moved on to Nok Air in 2013 and finally to Yeti Airlines in April 2019. This is reported to be the deadliest accident involving an ATR aircraft.
Authorities and Yeti Airlines Respond
In response to the crash and out of respect for the crash victims' families, Yeti Airlines has suspended all of its operations for today, Monday, January 16. The Prime Minister of Nepal has also declared Monday a national day of mourning in the country.
This is the worst plane crash in Nepal since 1992 and the second in a twelve-month span, with the last being in May 2022.
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