- Ragini Vadyanathan
- BBC News – Pokhara
In a human tragedy, the co-pilot of the ill-fated flight that crashed in Nepal last Sunday died, joining her husband who died in a similar plane crash 16 years ago.
Anju Khatiwada was co-piloting Yeti Airlines Flight 691 when the plane plunged to the ground and crashed near the tourist city of Pokhara, killing everyone on board in the country’s worst air disaster in 30 years.
Ironically, her husband, Dipak Pokerel, was also co-piloting a Yeti Airlines flight when he died in a similar accident some 16 years ago. And it was his death that prompted Anjou to work in the field of aviation.
With Anju traumatized by the loss of her husband, who left her alone with their young child, her grief becomes her motivating force.
“She was a determined woman, who persevered for her dreams and made her husband’s dreams come true,” says family member Santosh Sharma.
Deepak was in the cockpit of a Twin Otter, which was carrying rice and food to the western town of Jumla, when it went down and caught fire in June 2006, killing all nine people on board.
Four years later, Anju was on her way to becoming a pilot, overcoming many obstacles to training in the United States. Once qualified, she joined Yeti Airlines.
Anju was a female pilot, one of only six women working for the airline in the cockpit, and had flown nearly 6,400 hours.
“She was a complete leader in the airline and did individual flights. She was a brave woman,” said Sudarshan Partola of Yeti Airlines.
After her husband’s death, Anju later remarried, had a second child, and continued to build her career. Friends and family say she loved her job, and that her and her first husband’s death in this way is a tragedy within a tragedy.
At the crash site in Pokhara, parts of the plane that Anju was helping to fly were scattered on the banks of the City River, like the shattered pieces of a broken toy. A small section of the plane rested on the ravine, the windows intact and the green and yellow of Yeti Airlines still visible.
This week’s tragedy has reignited a debate about aviation safety in the Himalayan country, which has seen hundreds killed in air accidents in recent decades.
Over the years, a number of factors have been blamed for Nepal’s airlines’ poor safety record. Rough mountainous terrain and often unpredictable weather can be difficult for aeronautics, and are often cited as reasons. But others point to aging aircraft, lax regulations and poor oversight as equally important factors.
The cause of the plane crash is still not clear.
Outside the hospital in Pokhara, families of the victims waited for the bodies of their relatives to be released after autopsies were completed.
In the frigid January air, Bimsen Pan said he hoped he could bring the body of his friend, Nira, back to her village soon for her funeral rites.
Naira Chantelle, 21, was a singer and often flew Yeti Airlines.
Low-cost air travel has become an affordable and popular way for the country’s middle class to travel across the mountainous country.
Nira, who had moved from her hometown to the capital, Kathmandu, was on her way to perform at a music festival in Pokhara.
“She was a very talented artist, and she used to sing folk songs,” Bimsen said, his eyes red from tears. “She would often sing spontaneously.”
“I have no words to describe the bereavement.”