A Summit Air plane skidded off the runway at Lukla Airport on Sunday morning, hitting two helicopters parked nearby, killing at least three people, eye-witnesses and airport officials said.
The co-pilot of the Czech-built Let410 and two policeman were killed, while the injured were the pilot and staff of the Manang Air helicopter. The crash happened on Nepal’s New Year’s Day and at the height of the spring mountaineering season at an airport that is the aerial gateway to the Everest region of Nepal, and sees up to 35 fixed wing flights and as many as 100 helicopter ferries every day.
The plane was on an empty return flight from Lukla to Ramechhap, and there were no passengers. Most Lukla flights operate from Ramechhap because Kathmandu Airport has been closed from 10pm-8am because of runway repairs till 31 June.
The Let410 appears to have veered halfway down Lukla’s short, sloping runway, skidded off to the right and ploughed into the helipad where there were two helicopters parked at 0910 on Sunday morning. It slammed into a Manang Air Airbus H125, which had just landed from Kathmandu, cutting it in half. Another Shree Air chopper was slightly damaged.
The co-pilot of the Summit Air plane, Sujit Dhungana, and two policemen (Ram Bahadur Tamang and Rudra Shrestha) were killed. Several other injured, including Capt Rabinath Rokaya of Summit and Chet B Gurung of Manang Air were injured, and have been airlifted to Kathmandu. The visibility was said to be above minimum, although there were high clouds on the passes.
Several pilots interviewed for this report said their colleagues at Summit Air had complained of chronic problems with the Let410’s nose wheel steering, and urged media not to speculate on pilot error.