Why did Yeti Airlines Flight 961 crash in good weather?

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YesEti Airlines Flight 691 crashed on Sunday before landing in the Nepali tourist town of Pokhara, the gateway to a popular trekking region in the Himalayas, after a 27-minute journey from Kathmandu.

At least 69 of the 72 people on board have been confirmed dead.

Pilots say Nepal can be a difficult place to fly, but conditions were good at the time of the crash, with light winds, clear skies and temperatures above freezing. So what could have caused the ATR 72 crash?

Did the plane stop?

Dramatic video captured on a smartphone from the ground shows the final moments before the plane plunged into a gorge about 1.6 kilometers (one mile) from the new Pokhara International Airport. Amit Singh, a veteran pilot and founder of the Safety Matters Foundation, said the nose of the plane was visible before the left wing suddenly dropped and the plane was no longer visible in the video, indicating a likely stall. Indian.

“If you see the path of the plane, the nose of the plane is going up and the nose is associated with a high speed drop,” he told The Associated Press. “When they have stalls, usually one wing is down and the wing is basically creating lift. So, as the airflow decreases, the resulting lift is not enough to keep the airplane in flight and the wing collapses and the airplane noses over.

Professor Ron Bartsch, an aviation safety expert and founder of Australian firm Avlaw Aviation Consulting, told Sydney’s Channel 9 he believed the plane appeared to have stalled. Its proximity to the ground may have tricked pilots into thinking its speed was higher than it actually was, he said.

“I would say the plane went into an aerodynamic stall,” he said after watching the video before the crash. “Possible driver error.”

Yeti Airlines spokesperson Pemba Sherpa said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Questions about the ATR-72 aircraft

The ATR-72 was introduced in the late 1980s as a Franco-Italian joint venture, and although it has had several fatal crashes over the years due to icing problems, it generally has “a very good track record,” Bartsch said. i.

Researchers recovered a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder from the crash site on Monday, but only after careful analysis will investigators know exactly what happened. was.

“Human factors will be something investigators look at to see if there was adequate training,” Bartsch said. “But planes don’t usually fall out of the sky, especially modern planes.”

Some technical fault with the plane’s instruments may have given the pilots bad data, but it was still possible to recover from the stall, Singh said.

“Pilots should be trained to fix technical problems,” he said.

Singh pointed out that Nepal’s aviation industry has poor safety and preparedness despite “difficult airports and conditions”. Although it has improved, it noted that its planes are banned from flying in European airspace.

According to a pilot who regularly flies an ATR-72-500 from India to Nepal, the terrain of the region, with its mountain peaks and narrow valleys, increases the risk of accidents and sometimes forces pilots to fly above sight instead of relying on instruments.

A pilot who works for a private Indian airline and did not want to be named due to company policy called the ATR-72-500 a “brutal plane” unless the pilot is highly skilled and familiar with the terrain and wind. area. speed.

ATR said on Twitter on Sunday that its staff were “fully committed to the investigation and customer support” and that its “first thoughts are with all those affected”.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Concerns over Pokhara’s new airport

Home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, Nepal has a history of plane crashes. Since 1946, there have been 42 fatal plane crashes in Nepal, according to the Safety Issues Foundation.

According to the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority’s 2019 safety report, the country’s “hostile topography” and “diverse weather conditions” were the main challenges, resulting in a “number of incidents” for small aircraft. The report said that such accidents occurred at airports with short runways for take-off and landing, and that most of them were due to pilot error.

Pokhara Airport, a popular tourist destination as the gateway to the Annapurna mountain range, is located at an altitude of about 820 meters (2,700 feet).

Before the airport opened two weeks ago, some feared that the number of birds in the area – due to the habitat provided by the two rivers, as well as the garbage dump near the airport – would make it even more dangerous.

At the official opening of the airport, the mayor of the city said, according to local media, that the landfill mitigation work has been completed, but it is not clear what steps have been taken. .

If a bird had hit the plane while it was coming in to land, it could have forced the pilots to abort the approach and turn back, potentially leading to a stall, Singh said. .

“A high thrust setting can cause stalling,” he said. “Most of the time, the crew mismanages the distortion … so how did the pilot handle the failure?”

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Associated Press writer Sheikh Saalik in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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