DEATH IN THE SHADOW OF EVEREST

Richard steps off a Twin Otter at Khatmandu in 1997. Smell the relief!

Richard steps off a Twin Otter at Khatmandu airport in 1997. Smell the relief!

On Monday, The Sun reported a plane crash near Kathmandu in Nepal. Nothing unusual about that, then, except that there were no Brits on board.

There were a couple of Americans who perished, but they don’t usually register on The Sun’s hierarchy of news-worthiness.

All nineteen people on board were killed; made up, according to The Sun, of the Two Americans, 10 Indians and one Japanese. Now that’s 13, by my calculations.

The plane, a twin turbo-prop, had been returning from a sight-seeing flight around Everest and had clipped the roof of a building as it came in to land near Kathmandu in poor visibility.

This raises two questions: firstly, why on earth go on a sight-seeing trip when you can’t see anything (and this applies equally to the pilots as it does to the punters) and secondly, these things are always crashing – so why does The Sun bother to report it?

Sadly I can’t answer either of these questions but I can reveal that I have flown on these overgrown Airfix contraptions, which have less metal than a coat hanger, on several occasions in and out of Kathmandu.

However the ancient but serviceable Twin Otter, despite being something of a joke amongst the climbing fraternity – i.e. if Everest don’t kill you, the flight back almost certainly will – are normally very reliable, and when one crashes, it is almost always due to pilot error.

The affable Nepalese, most of whom are Buddhists, hold the belief that, if today is your day to die – so be it. Probably something you would be well advised to keep to yourself as a perspective British Airways pilot.

However, flights on Twin Otters are nothing compared to the alternative airborne mode of transport to and from the foot of Mount Everest.

Gorki Airways operates a fleet (two) of ancient Mig 17 helicopters in and out of Lukla from the Nepalese capital. These rusting relics of the Afghan war (the one that involved the Russians where the Americans diligently armed the Mujahedeen) have bullets holes in their fuselages that add to the sense of occasion. They are operated by dodgy looking Russian pilots dressed in leather jackets, black slacks and aviator glasses.

They will fly in any weather conditions, but usually only after they have consumed sufficient vodka in a Lukla lodge to appease the gods of the mountains.

On the whole, flying anywhere in Nepal would never pass a risk assessment. You can, of course, always walk. Not that that’s much safer

 

 

 

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