A young City lawyer, two mountaineering friends and a group of outdoor enthusiasts from the north west were among the 19 people killed in yesterday’s plane crash outside Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.
The victims all perished when their light aircraft ploughed into a flat river valley shortly after take-off on route for the Mount Everest region. It is believed the pilot was trying to return to the airport after the plane was struck by a bird – possibly a black eagle - as it was taking off.
In total seven Britons died on the flight alongside five Chinese tourists, four Nepalis and three crew members. The youngest British victim was 27 whilst the oldest was 60.
Among those killed in the crash was Ben Ogden, a 27-year-old Oxford graduate and rising star in the “magic circle” law firm Allen and Overy. The city firm released a statement saying they were “deeply shocked and saddened” by the news, describing him as “an excellent lawyer and a very popular member of the firm.”
Stephen Holding, 60, from Barlaston, Staffordshire and Timothy Oakes, 57, from Warrington were also named as among those killed. The two men were experienced trekkers and were often involved in the Bremex Mountaineering and Climbing Club.
As well as Mr Oakes, three more of the victims were from the north west. Among those named last night were Vincent and Darren Kelly from Lostock, Bolton, and 54-year-old Raymond Eagle, a keen marathon runner from Macclesfield.
AIR safety investigators in Nepal are trying to determine the cause of a plane crash, the latest of a number of recent tragedies that caused concern about the Himalayan nation’s air safety record.
In the latest of a series of deadly air crashes in Nepal, the twin propellored Sita Air Dornier 288 aircraft crashed with the loss of everyone onboard as it began its journey to the small town of Lukla – the gateway to the popular trekking region - at around 6.30am on Thursday. Five Chinese tourists, four Nepalis and three members of crew were also aboard the aircraft when it crashed close to the Manohara river, less than a mile from Kathmandu airport from where it had taken off. Locals said they heard screams coming from the wreckage as they waited for the fire brigade to arrive.
In a statement, the British Embassy in Kathmandu said: “We can confirm that there were British national fatalities. The Embassy remains in contact with Nepalese authorities.” It said that Ambassador John Tucknott had gone to the Tribhuvan Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu, where the bodies of those killed were taken.
Our thoughts are very much with the families of those affected, both in the UK and in Nepal,” the firm’s managing director, Ashley Toft, said in a statement.
Kunda Dixit, editor-in-chief of the Nepali Times, said that while Nepal had a notorious air safety record, this incident appeared to have been caused by a bird-strike.
“Air traffic control told me that this was a bird strike on the left engine shortly after take-off,” he said, adding that the pilot tried to return to the airport and that the plane banked steeply. He said he believed the plane probably then started stalling. “Unlike previous accidents where there has been pilot error, this could have happened anywhere in the world.”
This was later reportedly confirmed by the general manger of the Kathmandu airport, Ratish Chandra Suman, who said the pilot had reported trouble two minutes into the flight. According to the Kathmandu-based Sherpa Adventure Travel Pvt, the British tourists were heading for a two week trek in the Khumbu region. This month marks the start of the most popular trekking season.
Dipendar Shahi, marketing manager for Sita Air, told The Independent that seven British and five Chinese tourists had been on board the flight. He said he had heard that a black eagle may have hit the plane. “The plane took off and straight away it crashed,” said Mr Shahi. “People are now investigating what happened.
Dozens of army personnel and rescue personnel rushed to the scene of the crash though some reports said the fire brigade took more than half-an hour. Local television footage showed shocked crowds gathering as the plane burned. A number of burned bodies were subsequently laid in a line close the smouldering fuselage. Mobile phone video shot by local people reportedly showed the front section of the plane was on fire when it first hit the ground
Tulasha Pokharel, a 26-year-old woman who lives near to the crash site, told the Agence-France-Presse that she was among the first on the scene. “We could hear people inside the aircraft screaming, but we couldn’t throw water at the plane to put out the fire because we were scared that the engines were about to explode,” she said.
Binod Singh, a national police spokesman, said the civil aviation authority had set up an investigation committee and that the flight recorder had been recovered. “The committee will analyse all the records and they will visit the site and gather all the exhibits. Normally they report back after three months,” he said.
Nepal has a poor road network and large numbers of tourists and climbers often opt to use the country’s network of 16 domestic airlines and 49 airports to reach remote areas. But the air safety record is equally bad and local media reported that this was the sixth crash in the last two years in which a total of more than 110 people had lost their lives.
In May, 15 people were killed when a small Agni Air plane taking tourists to a treacherous high-altitude airport near Nepal’s Annapurna mountain region ploughed into the ground. In September last year, a small plane taking tourists on a sightseeing trip around Everest crashed into a hillside, also killing all 19 people on board. The Buddha Air Beechcraft plane, carrying 10 Indians, two Americans, one Japanese citizen and three local passengers, came down in heavy rain and fog at Godavari, about six miles from the capital.
The weather in Kathmandu and surrounding areas was said to have been clear yesterday morning and the Sita flight was among the first to leave the city’s Tribhuvan International Airport. Other flights reported no problems, and the airport operated normally. The airport was subsequently reopened soon afterwards.