Anju Khatiwada: Co-pilot of doomed Nepal flight lost her husband in plane crash in 2006

Sunday's air disaster was one of Nepal's deadliest

Co-pilot Anju Khatiwada's body has yet to be found but she is believed to have died in the crash.
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The co-pilot of the Yeti Airlines plane that crashed in Nepal on Sunday, killing at least 70 people, lost her husband in a plane crash 16 years ago.

Anju Khatiwada, 44, was helping the captain to fly the twin-engine ATR-72 turboprop that took off from the capital, Kathmandu, to Pokhara.

The aircraft, which was carrying 68 passengers and four crew members, crashed into a 300m-deep gorge between Pokhara’s old airport and its new international terminal, at about 10.30am, minutes before landing.

Although Ms Khatiwada’s remains have yet to be found, she is believed to have died in the crash — the deadliest air disaster in the Himalayan country in three decades.

Her husband Dipak Pokhrel met the same fate on June 21, 2006.

He too had been the co-pilot on a Yeti Airlines flight, a Twin Otter prop aircraft — a small passenger plane that was carrying six passengers, four crew members and food to the western town of Jumla when it came down and burst into flames, killing everyone on board.

Ms Khatiwada, who was left alone with their child, had reportedly used the insurance money to train as a pilot in the US.

She joined Yeti Airlines in June 2010, one of only six female pilots employed by the airline, and had flown close to 6,400 hours. She would go on to become a junior captain in 2017.

Ms Khatiwada became a full-time captain in 2019 and flew for 6,396 hours, Yeti Airlines spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula told The National.

She had reportedly remarried and had a second child. Friends and family told local newspapers that Ms Khatiwada loved her job.

A rescue team recovers the bodies of victims in Pokhara, Nepal, on Monday. Reuters

Meanwhile, the search teams recovered two more bodies late from the crash site — where pieces of the aircraft lay scattered in a deep gorge near the Seti river — on Monday, taking the total to 70.

They resumed the search operation to find the two missing bodies on Tuesday morning.

Teknath Sitaula, a spokesman for Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport, who travelled to Pokhara after the crash, said that the teams were using drones to find the missing bodies.

“The spot is a narrow, deep gorge and the teams are struggling as it is very critical and we are using drone cameras to locate any bodies but we can’t be sure about the finding,” Mr Sitaula told The National.

Of the bodies found, 23 were handed over to relatives, he said. The remaining 47 were taken to hospitals in Kathmandu for examination by forensics teams before they are handed over to their families.

The body of a victim of the Yeti Airlines crash is carried into a vehicle in Pokhara on Tuesday, before being transported to Nepal's capital Kathmandu. Reuters

Sunday’s crash has reignited a conversation about airline safety in Nepal, which has a poor flight safety record and infrastructure, with hundreds dying in plane crashes in recent decades.

In May, 22 people died when an aircraft crashed in a mountainous area after departing from Pokhara.

That crash prompted authorities to tighten regulations, including clearing flights for take-off only if there was favourable weather forecast throughout the route.

The accident was Nepal's deadliest since 1992, when 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed as it approached Kathmandu.

Updated: January 18, 2023, 10:00 AM
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