Seven people, including Tourism & Civil Aviation Minister, killed in a helicopter crash in Nepal

A private helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff on Wednesday in Taplejung, killing seven people on board, including Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Rabindra Adhikari.

A helicopter carrying Nepali Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari, the owner of Yeti Airlines & Air Dynasty and the Deputy Director-General of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal crashed into a hill side shortly after take off and all seven occupants died.

Along with Adhikari, the crash claimed the lives of prominent tourism entrepreneur Ang Tshiring Sherpa, managing director of Yeti Airlines and the chairman of Air Dynasty; Birendra Prasad Shrestha, deputy director general of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN); Dhurba Bhochhibhoya, deputy director of CAAN; Yubaraj Dahal, a personal aide to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, and Arjun Kumar Ghimire, a Nepal Army official.

Although the reason behind the crash remains unclear, initial reports show that the pilot had entered a cloud and lost control of the chopper before crashing into a cliff, locally known as Sisne Bhir. “It burst into flames a minute after it took off from Pathibhara Devi temple,” said Pratap Babu Tiwari, spokesperson for the Tribhuvan International Airport.

The Chief District Officer of Taplejung, Anuj Bhandari quoted the locals as saying they heard a loud bang followed by a sight of smoke and fire in the area.

It has been learnt that the tourism minister along with other officials had planned to visit Pathibhara Temple and then fly to Panchthar to observe the under-construction airport at Chuhan Danda.

Authorities have rushed to the incident site.

According to Tiwari, at 12:44pm on Wednesday, the captain reported heavy snowfall in the area to the Taplejung Airport tower. “Heavy snowfall. Not able to airborne,” the pilot was reported as saying. Airport officials said the area had a strong wind during the afternoon and it was blanketed by thick clouds. The Kathmandu airport was informed about the crash at 1:30pm.

During an initial inquiry by some civil aviation officials, a few local residents in Pathibhara said the pilot had asked them about the weather condition in the low-lying area of Taplejung.

“The pilot may have taken risk to fly based on the locals’ information that weather was partly fair in the low-lying area,” said a senior CAAN official who is familiar with the ongoing inquiry and requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the accident.

The impact of the crash, based on photographs and description from eyewitnesses, was so massive that only a part of the chopper’s tail remained intact. The bodies of the six people were piled up at the crash site. One body was recovered a few meters away.

The site of the crash, hours after Air Dynasty chopper smashed into a cliff. [Photo: Capt. Bibek Khadka]

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