An aircraft crash in Nepal’s capital on Friday morning led to the death of all 19 people on board.

A Dornier aircraft of Sita Air, a private airline operator, crashed minutes after taking off from the capital’s Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) on the banks of the Manhara river in the adjacent Bhaktapur district. The aircraft was headed to Lukla, the entry point for the Mount Everest region. Seven of the victims are Nepali, seven are British and five are Chinese.

According to TIA general manager Ratish Chandra Lal Suman, preliminary investigations showed that the aircraft hit a bird while taking off. The Air Traffic Control had given the plane clearance at 6.17 a.m. local time. A minute later, pilot Bijay Tandukar reported a bird had hit an engine and he would attempt an emergency landing back at the airport on a single engine. He was, however, unable to do so and the aircraft crashed a few hundred metres away from the runaway on the river banks, near a squatter settlement.

“In such a situation of single engine failure in a twin-engine aircraft, if the plane has reached a safe altitude and attained a certain speed, it can continue to fly while the pilot plans his next move. This is conjecture, but in today’s case, the pilot seems to have panicked as is natural under the circumstances. He may have tried a turn a little too early and too low,” aviation expert Hemant Arjyal told The Hindu

While Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai pledged to improve air safety, and the government constituted a five-member committee to investigate the causes of the crash, commentators were sceptical of results given the spate of recent aircraft crashes, and said the new report may well “gather dust”.

Friday’s accident could have been due to factors beyond human control, but as the Nepali Times weekly said in a special report on its website, “most crashes in Nepal are caused by pilot disorientation while flying through the mountains in cloudy weather”. It pointed out that this is the fifth instance of a domestic airliner crashing in the last two years, besides four helicopter crashes. Aircraft crashes have caused 114 deaths in the last six years.

In May this year, another Dornier aircraft hit a mountain near Jomsom airport; last year, a mountain flight crashed near Kathmandu, killing all passengers on board —many of whom were from Tamil Nadu.

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