The plane crash that occurred in Nepal on Jan. 15, which killed all 72 people on board, may have been caused by the pilot pulling the wrong lever during the descent, according to a preliminary investigative report released by the Nepalese Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission. Rescuers recovered 71 bodies, with one unaccounted person presumed to be dead.
The report (pdf) suggests that the pilot may have accidentally pulled the wrong lever, causing the propellers to be feathered. “The flight data recorder (FDR) data did not record any flap surface movement at that time. Instead, the propeller rotation speed of both engines decreased simultaneously to less than 25 percent and the torque started decreasing to [zero] percent, which is consistent with both propellers going into the feathered condition.”
According to the report, when the air traffic controller in Pokhara gave clearance for landing, the lead captain mentioned twice that there was no power in the engines. The lead captain then handed over control of the aircraft to the co-pilot and “repeated again that there was no power from the engines,” the report stated. The sky was almost clear at the time of the plane crash, with only a few clouds present.
Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary for the Tourism Ministry, told The Kathmandu Post that authorities are still investigating why the pilots delayed extending the flaps and why they disregarded the routine checklists. The investigation committee previously suspected that a faulty engine likely led to the plane crash after analyzing data from the flight recorder and cockpit voice recorder of the Yeti Airlines ATR-72 aircraft.
The crash is Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, when a Pakistan International Airlines plane plowed into a hill as it tried to land in Kathmandu, killing all 167 people on board. There have been 42 fatal plane crashes in Nepal since 1946, according to the Safety Matters Foundation. A 2019 safety report from Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said the country’s “hostile topography” and “diverse weather patterns” were the biggest dangers to flights in the country. The European Union has banned airlines from Nepal from flying to the 27-nation bloc since 2013, citing weak safety standards. In 2017, the International Civil Aviation Organization cited improvements in Nepal’s aviation sector, but the EU continues to demand administrative reforms.