Taplejung tragedy: helicopter fell burning immediately after takeoff

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Feb 28, 2019

Taplejung : It was stormy after snowfall at Pathivara Temple on Wednesday afternoon. The temple priest was aware that a team led by Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Rabindra Adhikari would arrive here to worship at the temple.

So, the preparation was intensified. Temple priest Dilli Acharya said, “Weather in the temple area was adverse since morning. But, the helicopter landed amidst this, and the team including the Minister worshipped at the temple.”

As the priest related, it was about 1:00 pm the helicopter landed with slight improvement in weather. Within few minutes of the arrival of the team, the ominous stormy weather returned making the team enter into the helicopter, looking for some warmth. He remembered, “The team entered the helicopter to ward off the cold. They also took tea. They spent around fifteen minutes inside the heli.”

The erratic weather patterned with intermittent clouds, clearance and heavy wind. At the same time, the team got the information that the route from Pathivara to district headquarters was encouraging enough to take off.

Acharya remembers, “Yuvraj Dahal from inside the chopper said now they could leave; if the weather is improving, it won’t do bad. After this, the pilot told us to move a bit far as the cold wind would affect us. Then we moved a bit far, and the chopper took off.”
When the priest heard that the helicopter met with crash within few minutes, he could not believe at all. It is now the reverie that the Minister from inside the helicopter thanked him for the tasty tea. “I’m saddened,” teary priest said.

Helicopter fell burning
Eyewitnesses said the helicopter fell burning immediately after it took off.  A cardamom entrepreneur Tej Bhattarai shared the horror, “All of a sudden, the helicopter fell with flames and smoke.” He said he saw it far from the temple.

Bhupen Gurung, a local who dashed off to the accident site from Phedi, shared while he reached the site, all the parts of the helicopter had been reduced to ashes expect for the tail.
Explaining the harrowing scene, he narrated, “Other parts of the helicopter were disintegrated and were burning in flames while the dead bodies were scattered all over. There was no choice but to be a mere onlooker at that time and place.”

The locals had reached the accident site braving the snowfall, light rain and storm. Police personnel and the locals were first among those who arrived to the site from Phedi of the Pathibhara temple.  A team consisting the Chief District Officer of Taplegunj , which had immediately set out for the site after learning the news about helicopter crash, had faced difficulty in reaching the site due to the difficult geographical terrain and bad weather.

After they reached the site, they started to ferry the dead bodies to the Suketar Airport. Nepal Army’s helicopter had airlifted the dead bodies of Minister Adhikari, Managing-Director of Yeti Airlines Aang Tshiring Sherpa, Deputy Director-General of Civil Aviation Authority Nepal, Birendra Prasad Shrestha, Director Durba Bhochhibhoya, Under-Secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, Yubaraj Dahal, Captain of helicopter Pravakar KC and security guard of Minister Adhikari, Arjun Kumar Ghimire.

Earlier on September 23, 2006, another helicopter crash had claimed the lives of 24 eminent scholars and conservationists including then State Minister for Forest Gopal Rai in Taplegunj.
The helicopter met with an accident at Ghunsa-based Phale mountain in course of returning after handing over the responsibility of conservation and management of forest to local community.
Minister Gopal Rai, his wife Mina Rai, Panning expert Dr Harka Gurung, conservationist Dr Tirthaman Maskey, the then secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, Dr Damodar Prasad Parajuli, Director General at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Narayan Poudel had lost their lives in the crash.

A team comprising Minister Adhikari had arrived here to carry out feasibility study for the construction of airport at Chuhandanda of Terhathum district.
No plan to visit Pathivara. Police inspector at Area Police Office, Aathrai, Rakesh Podar said, “They arrived here at 10 am. They took lunch after concluding the programme and talked with each other either to go to Pathivara temple. Some of them told not to go there due to bad weather while some others told to visit the temple even after waiting for favourable weather. We asked them what they want to do, whether to visit Pathivara temple or go to Kathmandu. Birendra Shrestha told that they will return to Kathmandu.”

He said that the helicopter then flew for Kathmandu but was however seen flying towards Taplejung. The chopper flew from Chuhandanda at around 11:30 am, said Podar, adding that it took almost one hour and thirty minutes to reach Pathivara Temple, a short distance. Within this time, what actually happened is unknown, he added.

(Santosh Purkuti)

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