Violations of operating procedures led to Air Dynasty crash, report saysThe crash, which killed a sitting minister, clearly violated all standards for flying in inclement weather and at high altitudes
The February 27 Air Dynasty crash in Taplejung that killed seven people, including the sitting tourism minister, occurred because it violated standard operating procedures, according to a preliminary report from the government’s investigation commission.
The report—which will be made public in 60 days after comments from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Nepal’s aviation regulatory body, the aircraft manufacturer, among others—was submitted to Dhan Bahadur Budha, state minister for culture, tourism and civil aviation, on Wednesday.
At least four people familiar with the report told the Post that the investigation commission has identified a violation of standard operating procedures as the primary reason for the fatal crash. There was no mechanical reason for the accident.
Standard operating procedures do not allow taking off during bad weather conditions, placing three people in the front seat at high altitudes, or allowing pilots unfamiliar with the terrain to fly VIPs. All of these standards were found to have been violated by the Air Dynasty helicopter, according to the report.
The helicopter was carrying officials who were themselves responsible for setting aviation safety standards, all of which were violated by the flight.
The fatal crash claimed the lives of Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Rabindra Adhikari; prominent tourism entrepreneur Ang Tshiring Sherpa, managing director of Yeti Airlines and the chairman of Air Dynasty; Birendra Prasad Shrestha, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN); Dhurba Bhochhibhoya, deputy director of CAAN; Yubaraj Dahal, under-secretary at the Prime Minister's Office; and Arjun Kumar Ghimire, a Nepal Army official.
“Right from the beginning, the helicopter was not in proper balance as it had three people, including the pilot, in the front seat, which is not permitted in high-altitude flights,” one of the investigators told the Post.
“However, the company’s logbook mentions that only two people were in the front seat of the seven-seater AS350 B3e chopper.”
The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity as the investigation has not been completed yet.
The helicopter’s manifest shows a load of 2,245 kilogrammes during takeoff, a permissible limit as specified by the helicopter manufacturer.
“But its centre of gravity was leaning towards the front,” said the investigator.
A chopper’s centre of gravity, determined with precise calculations, is a critical factor in guiding and stabilising the aircraft for a successful flight.
When the chopper took off from Kathmandu, it was properly balanced because it had a full fuel tank in the rear of the aircraft and was balanced with a load in the front, said an official from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
“But when the chopper started to burn fuel, the weight in the rear started to decrease and the centre of gravity shifted in every phase of the flight,” he said.
When the pilot powered the chopper and descended, the weight and balance had already begun to affect the performance of the flight, according to the report.
After landing in Pathivara in Taplejung district, the chopper was parked on a hilltop for 45 minutes, during which time ice had begun to cover the front windscreen.
When it was time to leave, the pilot started the engine and took off within a minute-and-a-half.
“It’s impossible to remove the ice on the windscreen within a minute or two,” said the investigator. The ice could thus have interfered with the pilot’s visibility. “The pilot seems to have been in a rush but it’s not clear why.”
However, no pilot would’ve taken off if he couldn’t see properly, said another CAAN official familiar with the report.
“No one is going to take off with ice, clouds and a strong wind if they can't see,” said the official.
Just 35 seconds after the chopper took off, flying 1.16 nautical miles (2.14 kilometres) from the Pathivara hilltop, it crashed. The aircraft took off at 3,474 metres (11,400 feet) and crashed into a cliff at 3,139 metres (10,300 ft).
The pilot was experienced but was unfamiliar with the geography as it was his first flight to Pathivara, the report said.
The aircraft turned 335 degrees, almost a full circle, and crashed into the same hill it took off from, according to the report. “This sharp turn profile shows that the pilot was either lost and flying in and out of clouds or he was trying to land on the same hilltop,” the investigator said.
“It seems that the pilot was under ‘undue pressure’ because he had high-profile people on board, including his chairman,” said the investigator. “No one takes off in such a situation hoping to die, but sometimes there are situations that make pilot do worse and they fail utterly. That’s why many countries, including Nepal, have rules to fly VIPs and VVIPs, but in many cases, they’re not followed.”
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