Why does Nepal have so many plane crashes and what may have caused the Yeti disaster?

There have been 27 fatal plane crashes in the country in the past three decades killing more than 600 people.

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Authorities in Nepal are frantically searching for a missing person, three days after a Yeti Airlines plane carrying 72 people on board crashed into a 300m-deep gorge in Pokhara.

The rescue and relief teams have found 71 bodies and are using drones to try to locate the missing person but say chances are slim.

The ATR 72 turboprop, a twin-engine aircraft carrying 68 passengers including 15 foreign citizens, 53 Nepalese and four crew members had taken off from the capital Kathmandu on Sunday morning for the resort town of Pokhara, but plunged into a gorge near Seti river around 10.30 am. The black box has been recovered, but no cause for the crash has yet been revealed.

The crash is the deadliest in the Himalayan country in 30 years, but by no means the only one.

How many air accidents have there been in Nepal?

Nepal has an unenviable track record in air safety.

There have been 27 deadly plane crashes in the country over the last three decades in which more than 600 people were killed, according to the Aviation Safety database.

In 1992, 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed as it approached Kathmandu.

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

All the airports in Nepal, including its main Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu ― located in a narrow valley at an altitude of 1,338m ― have tricky topography, leaving pilots with very tight space to turn and navigate.

The Pokhara airport, where the doomed Yeti flight was to land, is the country’s second international airport. Built against the backdrop of the Annapurna mountain range, a world-famous trekking route, it was officially opened on January 1 this year.

The mountain range, part of the Himalayas which include Mount Everest among its many lofty peaks, is home to the world’s most dangerous airport.

A small propller aircraft belonging to Tara Air on The runway at Tenzing Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal. (Photo by: Loop Images/UIG via Getty Images)

The Tenzing Hillary Airport also known as Lukla airport, is situated at an altitude of nearly 9,500 feet. It has a single runway that is just 1,729ft long, compared with the 10,000ft long runaways of most international airports, and angles down towards a valley below.

The extremely difficult terrain along with the unpredictable Himalayan weather has ended in several incidents.

There have been seven deadly accidents in the past two decades, the most notable being in 2008 when a Yeti Airlines flight crashed during final approach, killing all 16 passengers and two crew members. Only the pilot survived.

What do experts blame it on?

In this Sunday, May 26, 2013 photo, policemen stand on the runway during bad weather conditions at Lukla airport, Nepal. Carved out of side of a mountain, the airport was built by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1965, and at an altitude of 2,843 meters (9,325 feet) it has earned the reputation of being one of the most extreme and dangerous airports in the world. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) *** Local Caption ***  Nepal Everests Airport.JPEG-0c4be.jpg

Harsh Vardhan, a Delhi-based aviation expert and former chief executive of state-owned airline Vayudoot, said that the reasons for Nepal’s deadly air disasters range from privatisation of airlines in 1992, frequent political unrest and lack of infrastructure.

“Principally, the safety record of Nepal operations before privatisation was relatively good," he said.

"In fact, they created a very strong aviation network in some of the most difficult environments … post revolution when the privatisation took place, Nepal suddenly added so much capacity, they didn't have much regulatory infrastructure."

Mr Vardhan said that Nepal has become known for operating very old aircraft and having poor ground infrastructure, and pilots who are badly trained.

Experts have long blamed the erratic weather and airstrips located in rugged mountainous terrain as the reasons for the deadly air disasters.

Nepal, a country of an estimated 30 million people, sits in the Himalayas and is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks including Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and Annapurna.

More than half of the country is surrounded by mountains and the region closest to the Himalayas is extremely cold, windy and inhospitable, but attracts the highest number of tourists for trekking and mountaineering.

Nepal is dealing with a worldwide shortage of qualified pilots by hiring those lacking experience, Mr Vardhan said. This is particularly an issue when operating in such tough flying conditions.

“The moment you have pilots who gain some experience on their craft and the machines, they immediately get picked up by bigger airlines ... so these aircraft or operations have become virtually a training ground for them. In terrain like Nepal, pilots require longer experience" to cope with the demands of the weather and associated events, he said.

He also pointed at Nepal's volatile political history. For decades, Nepal has suffered political upheaval that often means demonstrations and strikes, which affect its tourism and ultimately the economy.


Nepal has a poor flight safety record, outdated infrastructure and lacks investment in new planes.

It is one of the poorest countries in the world and its GDP in 2022 was only $39 billion.

It relies heavily on tourism to fund its economy. It received more than 600,000 tourists in 2022, according to data published by Nepal Tourism Board.

But the country fares poorly in terms of infrastructure because of its limited resources.

Not only are its airports small and generally built to inferior standards, poor maintenance of equipment and lax enforcement of regulations blight the air industry.

The European Union in 2013 banned all Nepal-based airlines from flying in its airspace, citing safety concerns.

The country also scored poorly for accident investigations in an audit in 2022 by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, despite the country rating higher on other aspects, such as legislation.

Updated: January 18, 2023, 9:59 AM