Nepal finds plane’s black boxes after worst crash in 30 years

  • Searchers have found the bodies of two of the four missing passengers
  • Rescue operations were halted due to bad weather
  • Cockpit voice and flight data recorders are in good condition
  • Nepal observed a national day of mourning and launched an investigation

Kathmandu, Jan. 16 (Reuters) – A cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder were recovered from a passenger plane in Nepal’s worst plane crash in 30 years that killed at least 70 people, officials said on Monday.

Data from the recorders may help determine what caused Eti Airways ATR 72, carrying 72 people, to go down in clear weather before landing in the tourist city of Pokhara on Sunday.

Reuters Graphics

Both recorders were in good condition and will be sent for inspection based on the manufacturer’s recommendation, Kathmandu airport official Teknath Sitawla told Reuters.

Under international aviation rules, the accident investigation agency of the country in which the aircraft was designed and built is automatically part of the investigation.

ATR is based in France and the aircraft’s engines are manufactured in Canada by Pratt & Whitney Canada. (RTX.N).

Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority has inspected all ATR72 and ATR42 aircraft operating in the country since the crash and found no technical problems with them, a statement said on Monday.

The country currently has 16 ATR 72 aircraft and three ATR 42 aircraft with several airlines, said a Civil Aviation Authority official.

More than 24 hours after the crash, rescuers battled cloudy weather and poor visibility Monday as they searched the river valley for the unaccounted for passengers.

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Two more bodies were recovered on Monday, bringing the death toll to 70, said Naveen Acharya, an official at the rescue coordination center at Kathmandu airport. He said the search for the remaining two missing persons was called off due to darkness and would resume on Tuesday.

Pokhra Police Officer Ajay KC said that all the bodies have been sent to the hospital.

Around 100 people held a candlelight vigil at a memorial for the victims in the capital, Kathmandu, calling on the government to ensure proper safety standards.

Condolences poured in from around the world, including the Vatican.

In a message to the President of Nepal, “His Holiness Pope Francis sends his condolences and prayers to you and all those affected by this tragedy and those involved in rescue operations.”

Reuters footage from the crash site showed rescuers looking at the charred remains of the plane near a mountain valley.

The flight was carrying 57 Nepalis, five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans and one each from Argentina, Ireland, Australia and France from Kathmandu to Pokhara, the gateway to the scenic Annapurna mountain range.

The aircraft has flown more than 1,700 times in the last one year.

Minutes before the flight was due to land on Sunday, the pilot requested to change the runway, a Pokhara airport spokesperson said on Monday. “Permission granted. We don’t ask (why), we give permission to change approach whenever a pilot asks,” said spokesman Anup Joshi.

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Sunday’s crash underscores the need for the government to break up the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), which regulates flights and manages airports, experts said.

“The government should immediately separate the regulatory body and the service provider by separating the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), which is now performing both functions,” aviation expert and retired pilot KP Limbu told Reuters.

“This leads to a conflict of interest.”

Asked for comment, Sitaula, the Kathmandu airport official, denied any such discrepancy in the CAAN operation.

“Regulatory and service provider (airport management) authorities are separate and there is no cross-movement between the two bodies operating under one body,” he said referring to CAAN.

Nepal has nine domestic airlines including Eti Airlines and its subsidiary Tara Air. According to data from CAAN, the Eti and Tara air crashes in Nepal since 2000 have killed at least 165 out of 359 people who have died in air accidents.

Reuters Graphics

Nepal, home to 8 of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, has killed 75 more people in helicopter crashes this century, and sudden weather changes can cause dangerous conditions.

Experts say plane crashes are usually caused by a combination of factors, and investigations can take months or longer.

Anju Kathivada, the co-pilot of Sunday’s ill-fated flight, lost her husband Deepak Pokhrel in a similar crash in 2006. Kathivada’s remains have not been identified, but he is presumed dead.

Nepal observed a national day of mourning on Monday and set up a committee to investigate the disaster and recommend measures to avoid similar incidents in future.

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Reporting by Gopal Sharma, Shilpa Jamkandikar and Shivam Patel; Editing by Jerry Doyle, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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