The thin atmosphere of a high altitude runway and an optical illusion may have led to Sunday’s air crash in Nepal which killed 68, with the fate of one Australian on board still unknown.
Aviation expert Professor Ron Bartsch said the Yeti Airlines’ ATR 72 ploughed into the ground after it appeared to suffer a mid-air stall as it tried to land.
The plane was on final approach at Pokhara, on the edge of the Himalayas 200km west of capital Kathmandu.
Video captured its final chilling moments just as it came in to land after a 25 minute flight to the city’s new airport, 822m above sea level.
Life in the central resort of Pokhara has ground to a standstill after the shocking crash earlier today
It suddenly banked left and plummeted from the sky with 72 people on board, in the nation’s worst air disaster in three decades.
Prof Bartsch believes the pilot may have lost control after an optical illusion made him think he was travelling faster than he was, causing the plane to stall.
Aircraft need to fly at faster speeds through the thinner air at higher altitudes to stay airborne – and the high altitude runways of Nepal are notoriously tricky to navigate.
‘The runways are very, very challenging, some of the most challenging in the world,’ he told Nine’s Today show on Monday.
Aviation expert Professor Ron Bartsch (pictured) says the Yeti Airlines’ ATR 72 ploughed into the ground after it appeared to suffer a mid-air stall as it tried to land
‘That terrain is terribly difficult to fly – very strong winds and high altitude. Normally aircraft don’t just fall out of the sky, particularly modern aircraft.’
He ruled out any chance of mechanical failure and instead suspected the pilot had stalled the twin-engined prop plane in the tricky conditions and thin air.
‘Aircraft require air to fly in and the air is more rarefied at about 800 meters elevation there,’ he said.
‘But also the fact when you’re going over the ground, it may appear that you’re going a lot faster over the ground than what you’re going through the air.
‘I’d suggest that the aircraft has entered into an aerodynamic stall…that’s what caused this.’
Footage appears to show the plane flying over houses in the town in the central region of Nepal
NEPAL’S TROUBLED AIR CRASH HISTORY
Nepal’s air industry has boomed in recent years, carrying goods and people between hard-to-reach areas as well as foreign trekkers and climbers.
But it has been plagued by poor safety due to insufficient training and maintenance.
The European Union has banned all Nepali carriers from its airspace over safety concerns.
The Himalayan country also has some of the world’s most remote and tricky runways, flanked by snow-capped peaks with approaches that pose a challenge even for accomplished pilots.
Air accidents are not uncommon in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, as the weather can change suddenly and make for hazardous conditions.
Aircraft operators have said Nepal lacks infrastructure for accurate weather forecasts, especially in remote areas with challenging mountainous terrain where deadly crashes have taken place in the past.
The weather can also change quickly in the mountains, creating treacherous flying conditions.
Airport officials have confirmed an Australian was among the 15 foreign nationals on board the domestic flight from Kathmandu, along with five Indians, four Russians, one Irish national, two South Koreans, one French national and an Argentinian.
It’s currently unknown whether the Australian was killed or is one of the four survivors of the horrific crash. Daily Mail Australia has contacted Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for more details.
The harrowing video clip of the crash showed the plane making a sharp turn before plummeting to the ground seconds later with a loud thud, following by screams.
Local television showed thick black smoke billowing from the crash site as rescue workers and crowds of people gathered around the wreckage of the aircraft.
A second clip appears to show the moment of the crash which was broadcast on Facebook Live by one of its passengers.
The footage, which was purportedly taken by an Indian man called Sonu Jaiswal, shows passengers smiling as the plane flies over houses.
The Yeti Airlines logo is visible over Mr Jaiswal’s shoulder and a Nepalese insurance advert can be seen on the airline’s tray.
The clip continues, before the camera suddenly starts to shake and passengers are heard shouting. It then goes black with a loud bang, before flames light up the frame.
The veracity of the footage has not been confirmed independently by MailOnline, although the Times of India says it has spoken to Mr Jaiswal’s cousin, who confirmed the 29-year-old was onboard the plane.
It reports one of Mr Jaiswal’s companions, the three of which were also Indian, shouted ‘It’s real fun’ moments before the crash.
Hundreds of onlookers rushed to the crash site, where the remains of the plane were engulfed in flames
Rescue workers scrambled around broken sections of the aircraft at the hillside crash site amid scorched ground, with licks of flames visible on TV footage.
‘The plane is burning,’ said police official Ajay K.C., adding that rescue workers were having difficulty reaching the site in a gorge between two hills near the tourist town’s airport.
Pokhara is the gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular hiking trail in the Himalayas and its new international airport began operations a fortnight ago.
The craft made contact with the airport from Seti Gorge at 10.50am local time, the aviation authority said in a statement, ‘then it crashed.’
‘Half of the plane is on the hillside,’ said Arun Tamu, a local resident, who told Reuters he reached the site minutes after the plane went down. ‘The other half has fallen into the gorge of the Seti river.’
Khum Bahadur Chhetri said he watched from the roof of his house as the flight approached.
The plane, operated by domestic carrier Yeti Airlines (pictured) was 15 years old, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24
‘I saw the plane trembling, moving left and right, and then suddenly its nose dived and it went into the gorge,’ Chhetri told Reuters, adding that local residents took two passengers to a hospital.
There were 72 people on the twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft operated by Yeti in Sunday’s disaster, including two infants and four crew members, said airline spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula.
The plane was 15 years old, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
‘We expect to recover more bodies,’ said army spokesman Krishna Bhandari. ‘The plane has broken into pieces.’
Russian Ambassador to Nepal Alexei Novikov confirmed the death of four Russians aboard the crashed plane.
Rescuers gather at the site of a plane crash in Pokhara today
Crowds gather at the crash site of an aircraft carrying 72 people in Pokhara in western Nepal
‘Unfortunately, four citizens of the Russian Federation died. We are in constant contact with the Nepalese authorities and will provide all necessary assistance to the relatives of the dead Russians,’ he said.
A South Korean embassy official said: ‘Two South Koreans are on the list of passengers. We are trying to confirm whether they were actually on board and their identities.’
Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said he was ‘deeply saddened by the sad and tragic accident.’
Nepalese Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia tweeted condolences.
‘The loss of lives in a tragic plane crash in Nepal is extremely unfortunate. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of the bereaved,’ said the official.
Locals watch the wreckage of a passenger plane in Pokhara
The Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Chen Song also expressed his shock.
‘At this difficult time, our thoughts are with Nepali people. I would like to express my deep condolences to the victims, and sincere sympathies to the bereaved families,’ he wrote.
The ATR72 is a widely used twin engine turboprop plane manufactured by a joint venture of Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo. Yeti Airlines has a fleet of six ATR72-500 planes, according to its website.
Prime Minister Dahal has called an emergency cabinet meeting after the plane crash, a government statement said.