On Wednesday morning, October 8th, a Yeti Airlines Twin Otter plane crashed landed near the Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla, a busy airport on the Everest trail. There was only one survivor among 18 people who were killed.
Twelve German tourists, two Australians and 2 Nepalese were among those that died in the crash, which happened at 7:31 am. The pilot was the sole survivor.
Lukla is one of the busiest airports in Nepal, in spite of its rural location on steep slopes of the Everest foothills. It is the major jump-off point for the trek to Everest Base Camp and sees several daily flights from Kathmandu. The STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) airstrip is notoriously short and sloped.
Exact causes of the crash are yet to be investigated by a specially appointed commission, but it is said to have been due to sudden bad weather which closed in as the plane was trying to land. Visibility has to be very good for safe landings, the navigation equipment on the plane and at the airstrip not being very advanced, and the location being in a deep valley on steep slopes. Lukla airport is frequently closed, sometimes days at a time, due to bad weather.
The mountainous terrain of Nepal has seen many aircraft crashes through the years. Even Edmund Hillary lost his first wife and daughter in the area in a plane crash many years back. But this incident has been among the more devastating, especially since 2006, when 24 were killed in a helicopter crash (some key local conservationists and high ranking officials were among them).
The tragedy is certainly a damper on the current mood of a trekking season in full swing.