Co-pilot of doomed Yeti Airlines flight lost husband to earlier crash in Nepal

The co-pilot of the Nepal flight that crashed with 72 people on board had lost her husband in a similar crash in 2006.

Anju Khatiwada was the first officer on the Yeti Airlines flight from the capital, Kathmandu, to the tourist city of Pokhara.

The crash of the twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft killed at least 69 of the 72 passengers and crew on board, with authorities saying the missing three are presumed dead.

Ms Khatiwada, 44, joined the airline in 2010 following in the footsteps of her husband, who died in 2006 when his flight for the domestic carrier went down minutes before landing, reported Reuters.

“Her husband, Dipak Pokhrel, died in 2006 in a crash of a Twin Otter plane of Yeti Airlines in Jumla,” the airline’s spokesperson Sudarshan Bartaula said. “She got her pilot training with the money she got from the insurance after her husband’s death.”

Anju Khatiwada, the co-pilot of Nepal’s Yeti Airlines flight (Twitter/@Ashoke_Raj)
Anju Khatiwada, the co-pilot of Nepal’s Yeti Airlines flight (Twitter/@Ashoke_Raj)

He added that Ms Khatiwada had more than 6,400 hours of flying time and had previously flown the popular tourist route from the capital to Pokhara.

Pokhara police official Ajay KC said: “We will search for the remaining four that are still missing.

“It is cloudy now... causing a problem in the search.”

Rescuers stand by wreckage of a passenger plane that crashed in Pokhara (AP)
Rescuers stand by wreckage of a passenger plane that crashed in Pokhara (AP)

The plane was carrying 15 foreign nationals, including five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France.

The Russian ambassador to Nepal, Alexei Novikov, confirmed the death of four Russian citizens who were on board the plane. They included a travel blogger Elena Banduro, 33, who had urged others online to “Go to Nepal” in her last post about her latest trip. The other three have been identified as Viktoria Altunina, Yuri Lugin and Viktor Lagin.

Meanwhile, authorities announced on Monday that both the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder had been recovered from the wreckage.

It is still unclear what caused the crash, which took place less than a minute’s flight from the plane’s destination, on a mild day amid calm winds.

According to airport officials, the pilot asked for a change of runway minutes before the aircraft was due to land.

“The permission was granted. We don’t ask (why), whenever a pilot asks we give permission to change approach,” Anup Joshi, a spokesperson for Pokhara airport said.

A video widely shared on social media captures the final moments of the flight from inside the plane.

It was live-streamed by an Indian national who was travelling with his three friends, and shows the passengers were oblivious to any upcoming danger with one of them saying “it’s really fun” just before the camera starts to shake and flames erupt into the frame. People can be heard screaming before everything goes dark.

Nepal, home to some of the world’s largest mountain ranges, including Everest, is home to frequent plane crashes.

Sunday’s accident was the deadliest since 1992 when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed as it hit a hill while trying to land in Kathmandu.

(Additional reporting by agencies)