TAPLEJUNG, Feb 28: A helicopter crash in Taplejung district on Wednesday afternoon claimed the lives of all seven people on board, including Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari.
The AS350B helicopter belonging to Air Dynasty was returning after a visit to Pathibhara Temple in Aathrai Rural Municipality of Terhathum district when it crashed in the Sisnekhola area around 1:30 pm. Pathibhara is at an altitude of 3,794 meters.
The cause of the crash is yet to be established and there are conflicting reports from locals and the Home Ministry. Some locals said they saw the chopper burning while falling. The ministry, on the other hand, said it had crashed into a stiff cliff due to bad weather.
Along with Minister Adhikari, the deceased have been identified as Adhikari’s bodyguard Arjun Ghimire, Air Dynasty Manager Ang Tsering Sherpa, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) Deputy Director General Birendra Kumar Shrestha, CAAN Director Dhurbadas Bhochhibhoya, Under-secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office Yubaraj Dahal and Pravakar KC, the pilot. All the bodies had been recovered and brought to Kathmandu by evening.
It was hard to retrieve the bodies because of the difficult location and poor communications due to snowfall affecting communications networks. The bodies were unrecognizable, said Deputy Superintendent of Police Sanjaya Singh Thapa, chief of District Police Office Taplejung.
“When we reached the crash site, the chopper was burning and emitting thick smoke although it was covered with snow,” said Ghanashyam Paudel, a hotel entrepreneur from upper Fedi who first reached the crash site along with police.
Paudel was among the eyewitnesses and said the helicopter was burning as it fell. “It looked like it suddenly caught fire,” he added.
According to the CAAN office at Tribhuvan International Airport, the helicopter pilot was in touch with the CAAN facility at Suketar until 12:45 pm. The pilot had informed the office that they were at Pathibhara Temple. An hour later, he reported thick fog and snowfall and indicated an immediate flight was not possible.
“That was the final contact. There was no further contact between the pilot and the airport tower,” said TIA spokesman Pratapbabu Tiwari.