Data | With 720 plane crash deaths in last thirty years, Nepal ranks 12 of 207 nations
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The country has a mountainous terrain, which is the main cause of fatalities, and a poor accident investigation record

January 18, 2023 01:13 am | Updated 12:13 pm IST

Recovery effort: Rescuers pull out the body of a victim who was killed in a Yeti Airlines plane crash in Pokhara, Nepal.

Recovery effort: Rescuers pull out the body of a victim who was killed in a Yeti Airlines plane crash in Pokhara, Nepal. | Photo Credit: AFP

At least 69 of the 72 passengers onboard Yeti Airlines flight 691 died when the plane crashed in Nepal on Sunday. This is the country’s third deadliest aviation disaster in the last three decades. The airplane was flying from Kathmandu, the capital, to Pokhara, a famous tourist destination, and crashed near Pokhara international airport.

In the last three decades, 52 flights have crashed in Nepal. The country ranks 33 out of the 207 countries ordered based on the number of plane crashes between 1990 and 2023 (Chart 1) . With 1,578 plane crashes, the U.S. leads the list, followed by Russia (464) and Canada (369). India ranks 13, with 99 crashes in the period.

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The number of deaths due to airplane crashes is notoriously high in the mountainous country. If we include the crash on Sunday, 720 lives have been lost in such incidents in Nepal between 1990 and 2023 (Chart 2). Nepal ranks 12 out of the 207 countries ordered based on fatalities in the same period. The U.S. leads the list with 5,445 deaths, followed by Russia (2,730) and Indonesia (2,171). India ranks 7, with 1,020 deaths in the period.

The U.S. leads both the number of plane crashes and fatalities by a wide margin because air traffic in the country is far higher than in other countries. A comparison between air traffic and crash-related fatalities is necessary to understand whether deaths in Nepal are disproportionately higher than its air traffic.

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Chart 3 depicts the number of fatalities in air crashes against departures by air carriers registered in a country between 1990 and 2023. For instance, air carriers registered in the U.S. recorded 324 million departures in the period, the highest among all countries by a wide margin. This was followed by Chinese carriers — 57 million. These figures are plotted in the horizontal axis of  Chart 3. The farther to the right a dot (representing a country), the more the number of departures. The number of departures by air carriers registered in a country is a good proxy measure for air traffic in the nation.

Fatalities in plane crashes are plotted in the vertical axis of Chart 3. The higher a dot on the chart, the more the number of fatalities. Nepal belongs to a set of countries where air traffic is relatively low but fatalities are relatively high. Other countries in this lot include Nigeria, Pakistan, Angola and Sri Lanka. In the period considered in Nepal, the number of departures was 0.9 million, while fatalities were 720. In comparison, over Kuwait, there were only three such fatalities in the period considered, while departures were 0.85 million. In 59 countries, the number of departures was higher than in Nepal, but the number of fatalities was lower. For instance, Irish carriers recorded 12 million departures with just 10 fatalities.

Yeti Airlines recorded six air crashes in the last three decades with 99 fatalities. Tara Air, its subsidiary, also recorded six incidents with 67 fatalities. Together, they account for the highest number of crashes and fatalities by any Nepali carrier (Chart 4).

While the reasons for individual accidents vary, “most aviation accidents in Nepal between 1952-2022 were caused by planes flying into mountains hidden in clouds, known as Controlled Flight into Terrain with fatalities as high as 92%,” writes Kunda Dixit in  Nepali Times . Also, in the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme conducted between 2016 and 2018, Nepal scored only 21.6% on the accident investigation parameter, which is much lower than the global average of 54.2%. A poor record in accident investigation shows that the feedback mechanism is broken, making it difficult to learn from mistakes.

nihalani.j@thehindu.co.in

vignesh.r@thehindu.co.in

Source: Aviation Safety Network (Charts 1,2,3,4); World Bank (Chart 3); ICAO (Chart 5)

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