PhotoUmesh Pun/Republica Paragliders are seen flying in Pokhara sky in this file photo.
POKHARA, March 4: A Romanian pilot Ebe Chis Jer on Sunday succumbed to paragliding accident in Pokhara. The solo pilot had plunged into Fewa Lake after he lost control over the flight.
On November 13, 2017, Manish Gurung, 21 had died due to paragliding fall. A month before to this, eight people had fallen at Fewa Lake when their glide lost balance amid storm. They were rescued alive. On January that year, a Briton Michael Peter Plamchapd, 68, died in a similar accident.
However, the craze of paragliding is only on the rise. But accidents have not ceased to draw headlines. Almost every year, one or more glide accidents take place in Pokhara. Some are severe, many are not.
Why is paragliding getting accident prone after all? According to Sobhit Baniya, vice president of Nepal Air Sports Association, there is no regulatory body inspecting this sport. “Nothing, nobody regulates it. Anyone can go and try just if they pay money and get permission. Even those who do not know how to take off and land are driving on their own,” he said.
The worst part, according to Baniya, is the negligence towards weather. Even when the weather is extreme, people go for paragliding.
“Whether it be domestic tourists or foreigners, naïve ones should not try this sport. But who cares, everyone is overconfident. They do not listen to anyone, they just fly no matter how unskilled they are,” Baniya stated.
The glides sometimes collide with each other while being airborne leading to accidents. Similarly, the lack of knowledge of the direction of the air flow triggers accidents.
“Paragliding is not a joke. One should be skilled. One should have the sense of the direction of the airflow, weather, control over brake etc. But anyone is just trying it,” Baniya said.
Apart from irresponsible individuals who show a stubborn attitude at the sport, he accused the entire tourism industry of not being able to regulate the sport.
“The problem lies in the way we are issuing the license. Just because a pilot is a foreigner does not mean they are skilled enough. But this very fact is ruled out and foreign pilots are issued license very easily,” said Baniya.
Stating that professional paragliding is the need of the time, he said that the government must review the current provisions and practices. Particularly, the issue of complying with weather conditions before becoming airborne is vital in Pokhara, he said.
“In Pokhara, weather conditions remain unpredictable. No matter how skilled you are in driving the glides, you are not safe unless you are well aware of the weather patterns here. So, we need to be very serious about issuing licenses to pilots, and about the preparations necessary for the glide,” Baniya suggests.
Most of the times, the weather is fine when a pilot takes off. But during the flight, weather conditions worsen. This has happened with paragliders several times, he said.
“If we don’t have a strong regulatory body which can monitor such things and ensure measures for safe flights, it is better that we rethink over the fate of this sport. Whether to continue it or not, should be debated,” Baniya said. “Accidents, if they are minor, fine. But when it takes life, we must be serious to consider measures that can avoid mishaps in the future.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) is the regulatory body for this sport. There are over five dozen paragliding companies in operation in Pokhara. People willing to try the sport, contact these companies and the authority provides a license to them. At once, the license is given for 15 days.
“For the license, one has to pay $ 50 US. That is not huge money while the sport looks very thrilling. Many people want to try it,” said Baniya. “But there is a kind of mess in this sport in the past, it still has.”
Chief of the CAAN in Pokhara, Bhola Prasad Guragain is however not ready to take the blame. According to him, the license is not being provided easily. “We check them on several grounds before providing a license. Those who already have an international license are given permission,” he said.
Guragain stated that paragliding is not operated by the engine. It depends on the flow of the air. So, sometimes, ‘accidents are possible’.
“Paragliding cannot be regulated or controlled from the floor. It has to be controlled by the pilot himself or herself,” said Guragain.
Sarangkot, Toripani, and Mangredunga are the three popular paragliding spots in Pokhara.