5 Mexicans, Nepali pilot killed in helicopter crash near Mt Everest in Nepal

Kathmandu: All six people, including five members of a Mexican family, were killed in a fiery crash of a private commercial helicopter near Mount Everest in eastern Nepal on Tuesday, a senior airport official said.

The Manang Air NA-MV chopper took off from Surke Airport in Solukhumbu district at 10:04 am for Kathmandu and suddenly lost contact at an altitude above 12,000 feet at 10:13 am, said Gyanendra Bhul, Manager at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).

The helicopter crashed in the Lamjura area of Likhupike Rural Municipality in the remote mountainous Solukhumbu district.

TIA spokesperson Tkeknath Sitaula said all six bodies were found at the crash site during a search operation.

They were returning to Kathmandu from Surke after enjoying a mountain flight. The flight was conducted from Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest, Sitaula said.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), all five tourists were Mexican nationals and the pilot was Nepalese Captain Chet Bahadur Gurung.

The Mexican victims have been identified as Sifuentes G. Fernando (95) and Rincon Ismael (98), both males, along with three females – Sifuentes Gonzalez Abric (72), Gonzalez Olacio Luz (65) and Sifuentes G. Maria Jese (52).

Gurung, who managed to survive an earlier accident, had flown helicopters for nearly 7,000 hours in the Nepali skies, local media reports said.

Local people and the police who reached the crash site reported all six persons including the pilot dead, officials said.

Two helicopters of Altitude Air mobilised for the rescue operations could not land at the crash site due to adverse weather conditions, the CAAN said, adding that the helicopters have now landed at Bhakanje of the same district, which is the nearest place to the crash site.

Efforts are being made to transport the dead bodies by ground transportation to the helicopter landing area and further to Kathmandu, it said.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ paid tributes to the victims of the crash, saying the incident has shocked the country.

All six people aboard the chopper have died in the accident, The Kathmandu Post newspaper quoted operation and safety manager of Manang Air Raju Neupane as saying.

District police chief Dipak Shrestha said that the accident is believed to have been caused due to bad weather.

Earlier, a senior official at TIA said locals informed him that the helicopter crashed with a loud explosion and they saw fire at the crash site. “The locals discovered the crashed helicopter at Chihandanda,” said rural municipality deputy chair Nwang Lhakpa.

The last location of the chopper was tracked at 10:12 am in the Lamjura Pass area, said Neupane.

Nepal’s tourist and mountaineering season ended in May. The flights carrying tourists to the mountains are less common this time of year as visibility is poor and weather conditions fickle.

Founded in 1997, Manang Air is a helicopter airline based in Kathmandu. It has been operating helicopters in commercial air transportation within the Nepalese territory under the Regulation of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.

The company provides chartered services and is focused on personalised services such as adventure flights, helicopter excursions or expedition work.

Nepal has had a fraught record of aviation accidents, partly due to its sudden weather changes and airstrips located in hard-to-access rocky terrains.

In May, a helicopter belonging to private Nepalese helicopter service provider -Simrik Air – crashed in eastern Nepal, killing one person and leaving four others, including the pilot, injured.

In January, Nepal’s Yeti Airlines twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft carrying 72 people, including five Indians, crashed in Pokhara, killing all on board.

In May 2022, all 22 people on board, including four members of an Indian family, were killed when a Tara Air plane crashed in Nepal’s mountainous Mustang district.