Pilot Pulled the Wrong Levers in Nepal Crash That Killed 72, Investigators Find

A plane crash that killed dozens of people in Nepal in January was caused by a pilot who pulled the incorrect levers while trying to land, the country’s investigators said Thursday.

The pilot changed the propeller angle instead of that of the wing flaps, causing a Yeti Airlines plane to lose momentum and fall, killing all 72 people on board, a report by a committee formed by the Nepali government said.

The ATR-72 plane, a twin-engine propeller aircraft, was on a half-hour flight from the capital, Kathmandu, carrying 68 passengers and four crew members when it crashed on Jan. 15. The pilots were trying to land in Pokhara, a picturesque vacation town of the Himalayas.

As they prepared for landing, at less than 721 feet from the ground, one of the pilots had called for the wing flaps to be adjusted. The second pilot mistakenly moved the condition levers, which control the propellers and are situated next to the flap lever, to a position called “feathered,” investigators said.

The feathering of a propeller, which reduces drag, is typically done when an engine is shut down, the report said, and can be done automatically or manually.

That error let air through the propellers, instead of pushing it backward to propel the plane and keep it airborne, the report said. Soon after, one of the pilots reported that there was no power coming from the engine.

Pokhara’s new airport was weeks old at the time, and the crew hadn’t received skill-based training for the airport, the report said. It was also the first pilot’s first attempt at landing on that runway, and the third time for the second pilot. The crew were probably distracted, the report said, because the pilots were occupied with providing instructions instead of focused on their duties.

Those factors caused the pilots to misidentify the levers and miss the indicators that the propellers had been feathered, the investigators concluded, citing factors including a high workload and stress.

The plane then lost thrust, stalled, crashed into the ground and was destroyed by the impact and fire, the report said. Video recordings on social media at the time showed the plane engulfed in flames and plumes of black smoke rising from the crash location. Emergency workers were shown trying to retrieve the bodies of victims.

From November 1960 to May 2022, 106 aircraft crashed in Nepal, resulting in 590 deaths, according to a safety report published this year by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority. Of those aircraft, 50 were twin-engine planes, which many people in Nepal rely on to reach remote parts of the country.

Mountainous terrain, unpredictable weather conditions, poor visibility and aging fleets are among the hazards of flying there.

In 2022, a plane carrying 22 people crashed during a 20-minute flight operated by Tara Air from Pokhara to Jomsom, a tourist destination popular among hikers. There were no survivors. On the same route in 2016, a crash shortly after takeoff killed all 23 people on board.

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