Plane en route to Lukla crashes shortly after take-off killing Everest-bound trekkers including soem Britons.
Very sad news from Nepal where the BBC and other news services are reporting that a plane bound for Lukla airport in the Khumbu, the main starting point for the trek to Everest base camp, has crashed near Kathmandu killing all 19 people on board including a party of British trekkers.
Reports suggest that the twin-engined Dornier 228 may have struck a vulture during take-off and that the pilot attempted to return to Kathmandu and land before crashing on the outskirts of Nepal's capital city. All 19 people on board, three crew and 16 passengers are reported to be dead.
Air travel in Nepal has a bad reputation with the BBC saying that since 1949 there have been more than 70 air crashes in the country with over 650 fatalities as a result.
The reasons behind the poor safety record generally seem to be accepted as being down to a combination of ineffective local regulation allowing operators to cut corners in safety terms, sometimes poor maintenance standards and the difficulities implicit in flying in a mountainous country with turbulent weather patterns.
That said, thousands of trekkers every year fly in and out of Lukla airfield, a day or so below Namche Bazzar, en route to or from Everest Base Camp and the surrounding area and the extraordinarily precarious site of the airstrip makes the flight one of the stand-out experiences of trekking in the area.
Lukla airstrip is perched on the edge of cliff with barely enough room for even the small twin-engined aircraft used for internal flights in Nepal to take off or land. Arriving there is a quietly terrifying experience as planes head down a high sided valley before banking sharply and swinging in to land on a strip apparently the size of a postage stamp - there are several damaged planes by the side of the runway to illustrate just how marginal the whole business is.
Taking off is arguably even more terrifying with planes sitting at the start of the strip with engines revving hard and brakes on before the brakes are released at the plane hurtles towards the wire fence at the far end of the airfield, lifting off at the last moment and soaring over the fence and the sheer cliff beyond.
In some ways it seems remarkable that there aren't actually more incidents given the exacting conditions and business of the route. The Foreign Office advice on flying in Nepal says: 'Check weather conditions before travelling with domestic airlines. Bad weather conditions in mountainous and hill regions can increase the risk to safety and cause lengthy delays.'
The Aviation Safety Network page for Nepal shows there have been two fatal accidents a year on average over the last three years with today's crash the second of 2012.
Alternatives To Lukla
If you are considering trekking to Everest and reluctant to take internal flights, the alternative is to take a bus to the old trailhead at Jiri and trek in from there. It adds an extra six or seven days to the trek, but the route passes through some beautiful cloud forest terrain, is quieter, cheaper and less overtly commercialised than the trail higher up and also makes for better, more gradual acclimatisation.
That still leaves the return trip, but as it's generally downhill and there's no need to acclimatise, the walk-out to Jiri is considerably faster.