Tragic Helicopter Crash in Nepal - continual updates | WWF

Tragic Helicopter Crash in Nepal - continual updates

Posted on
01 October 2006

(NST: Nepal Standard Time. +5:45 GMT)

Last Rites: 17.45 NST 29 September 2006

The last rites of Dr Chandra P Gurung took place at Pashupati Arya Ghat this afternoon. That of Mr Mingma Norbu Sherpa, Mrs Yeshi Choden Lama and Mr Dawa Tshering Sherpa also took place today. Dr Harka Gurung’s family will be holding his last rites in his village.

The funerals of Dr Damodar Parajuli, Minister Rai and his wife Meena, Dr Tirtha Man Maskey, Mr Narayan Poudel, Mr Sharad Rai, Mr Bijnan Acharya, Mr Vijaya Shrestha, Mr Hem Raj Bhandari, Mr Sunil Singh were conducted late yesterday evening.

Since yesterday, the WWF team have attended several memorial services as well as last rites. Mr Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International left for Switzerland this evening. WWF US President Carter Roberts and his team will leave Kathmandu tomorrow in order to attend the memorial service being conducted by Matthew Preece’s family in their hometown.

WWF Nepal is officially closed for the annual Dasain festival till Wednesday, 4 October 2006.

Memorial service held: 14:30 NST 28 September 2006 (in pictures)

In memory of the 24 passengers killed in the tragic helicopter crash on 23 September in eastern Nepal, WWF Nepal organized a special memorial service today in Kathmandu. The service started at 9:15 AM with chants and prayers by priests from various religions. The event was attended by family, friends, relatives and colleagues of the deceased.

Family members and relatives recalled the special moments they had shared with the departed and recollected their endearing qualities, while friends highlighted their selfless commitment to work and their special talents. Representatives from other organizations and the public congregated at the venue to pay their final tributes and signed the condolence book.

Speaking on the occasion, WWF International Director General Jim Leape said, “the visionary personalities who lost their lives in the accident have set an example for other conservationists of the world to follow. The handing over of management responsibilities of the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area to the local communities was a great achievement in biodiversity conservation.”

WWF-US President Carter Roberts said Mingma Norbu Sherpa (WWF-US) and Dr Chandra Gurung (WWF-Nepal) were a source of inspiration to other conservationists. Both speakers paid tribute to all 24 passengers and crew members onboard the helicopter.

Nepal's Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Pradeep Gyawali, said a memorial will be erected at the accident site in memory of all those who perished.

On the eve of the memorial service, Mr Leape and Mr Roberts interacted with the bereaved family and staff members of WWF Nepal.

Commitments for the Future:

20.30 NST 27 September 2006

Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International, and Carter Roberts, President of WWF US, spoke to a gathering of WWF staff from Nepal, US, UK, Bhutan and India at the Nepal office this evening. Also present were the field team leaders of the search and rescue mission, Ghana Shyam Gurung and Ang Phuri Sherpa. They returned from Kangchenjunga this evening.

Ghana Shyam Gurung described the mission briefly, giving special credit to the local people who gave a hundred percent in locating the helicopter and the subsequent recovery efforts. He asked for continued support from the WWF Network to “realize the dream for Kangchenjunga” to which both Mr Leape and Mr Roberts expressed wholehearted commitment.

Christy Williams, Coordinator-WWF AREAS Programme, suggested that a trust fund be set up for the dependants of those who were lost in the helicopter crash. Mr Roberts said that options would be discussed for a workable strategy together with WWF Nepal.

Mr Leape and Mr Roberts will be speaking at the WWF Memorial Service tomorrow.

Delay in handover of remains

7:15pm NST 27 September 2006, Kathmandu
The bodies remains of the deceased will be handed over to the respective family members tomorrow (28 September 2006) by the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital authorities. WWF representatives were present at the hospital with the bereaved. The WWF memorial service still stands as scheduled.

Identification of the remains underway.

5:15 NST, 27 September 2006, Kathmandu
The remains of the passengers and crew members lost in the crash have been brought to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu. Identification and handover to concerned family members is underway.

Helicopter to arrive shortly
1:30 NST, 27 September 2006, Kathmandu
A helicopter carrying the remains of the passengers and crew will be arriving shortly in Kathmandu from Taplejung. They will be taken to Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Maharjgunj for identification. Families have been notified.

Meanwhile, Jim Leape, Director General - WWF International, Carter Roberts, President - WWF US, Aileen McLeish, Director of Resources - WWF UK, and Ginette Hemley from WWF US are flying into Kathmandu today. They are here to attend the WWF Memorial Service with the family and friends of the deceased tomorrow, 28 September 2006. The service is open to all and will take place from 9-11 AM at Birendra International Convention Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal.

National day of Mourning
The government of Nepal has announced Wednesday as a day of national mourning and also declared a public holiday in memory of the late state Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation Mr. Gopal Rai and 23 other conservation experts who lost their lives in the tragic helicopter crash in Ghunsa, Taplejung on 23 September.

A council of ministers held a meeting at the Prime Minister’s official residence on Tuesday and took the decision to this effect.

Obituaries 09.05 GMT 26 September 2006
Obituaries for the 8 WWF & IUCN staff killed in the tragedy.

Message from WWF's Director General
16.45 GMT 25 September 2006
"Today has been a terrible day for those of us at WWF, for Nepal, and for conservation around the world. We at WWF have lost seven of our colleagues, our friends, in a helicopter crash in Ghunsa, Nepal.

These were people who had dedicated their lives to conserving the extraordinary natural resources of Nepal and the Earth. Their deaths are a huge blow."  More...

Losses Confirmed: 18.45 NST 25 September 2006
Ghana Shyam Gurung of WWF Nepal, who is part of the team that located the crash site, confirmed that there are no apparent survivors from the Shree Air flight.

Fifty local people from the three villages of Ghunsa, Lelep and Phale are helping to construct a makeshift helipad at the site, which is a nearly five-hour walk south-west of Ghunsa.

Update: 17.00 NST 25 September 2006
"The helicopter has been found, and it appears that there are no survivors, but we are waiting for final confirmation," WWF International Director General James Leape said today.

The wreckage of the Shree Air helicopter was found today 1.8 kilometres (1.15 miles) from Ghunsa village. Rescuers had been looking for the crash site since the helicopter disappeared shortly after noon Nepal time (6.00 GMT) on Saturday.

It was found by a search team who had hiked in on foot.

"We send our condolences to the families of all those who were involved in this tragic accident. Our thoughts are with the families, and we are doing everything we can to support them," Leape said.

If confirmed, the deaths will amount to the biggest single loss of life in WWF’s 45-year history.

Helicopter Found, Official Confirmation on Survivors Awaited
: 14.20 NST 25 September 2006
WWF Nepal confirms that the Shree Air helicopter carrying 24 people onboard has been located at a site 1 nautical mile south-west of Ghunsa by the rescue team consisting of WWF Nepal and Nepal Mountaineering Association with Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal, supported by a local search group. The first signs are that no survivors were found but we are waiting for official confirmation.

WWF will provide a statement once more details are known.

Ground rescue to Ghunsa: 10.25 NST 25 September 2006
All the local rescue teams on foot are converging at Ghunsa this evening. To coordinate efforts, a committee of seven has been formed. It includes Mukti Poudel, Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Project field staff, and representatives from the Red Cross and local media. They will be airlifting vital supplies, medical aid and food from Taplejung today.

Search Continues: 08.45 NST 25 September 2006
In Kangchenjunga the ground rescue operations are still underway despite the continuous heavy rain. We have yet to receive word about their progress. Air search efforts are being hampered by the weather conditions. Two choppers are standing by in Taplejung and Biratnagar. More choppers will join the operation after the weather improves. In a short while, a WWF Nepal and Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal team is expected to leave Kathmandu.

Support from WWF Network: 20.25 NST – 24 September 2006
Senior level staff from the WWF global network will be arriving in Nepal in the next few days to support and strengthen the rescue efforts. Mr Christian Holmes, Senior Vice-President, Dr Eric Wikramanayake, Senior Conservation Scientist, Dr Eric Dinerstein, Chief Scientist and Vice-President, and Dekila Chungyalpa, Priority Lead-Greater Mekong are the team from WWF US. Mr Devendra Rana, Deputy Director- Asia Pacific Programme is flying in from WWF’s global headquarters in Switzerland.

Thirty-two hours after the Shree Air flight left from Ghunsa in Kangchenjunga, several aerial surveys and over 150 people on the ground are still trying to locate the missing helicopter despite the bad weather.

WWF Nepal would like to thank the WWF network, partner organizations and WWF well-wishers for their concern and support in this time of crisis. WWF Nepal remains hopeful that the 24 people onboard are safe and alive.

Press Briefing: 14.55 NST – 24 September 2006
WWF Nepal held a press briefing and released a statement today about the latest developments on the missing helicopter and 24 passengers. The press statements can be downloaded (Nepali and English).

Meanwhile, a helicopter is on standby ready to fly to the Ghunsa area as soon as the weather clears in Taplejung. WWF Nepal staff members Ang Phuri Sherpa and Ghana Shyam Gurung will accompany the team. Ground teams are making progress. A 15-member ground team left from Taplejung with emergency rations. Another 15-member group has left from Lelep from Ghunsa. We have also received confirmation that another team is combing the area near Phalley Danda, south of Ghunsa.

Search Resumes: 08.30 NST – 24 September 2006
A light rain fell as three helicopters set off on a rescue mission from Kathmandu this morning at 6 AM. At present there are five helicopters in the air, two form Nepal Army.

The rescue team that set off from Taplejung last night returned. They resumed their search at 6 AM this morning along with medical personnel. In addition, the Nepal Police and Nepal Army have mobilized a special task force that is ready to leave for the area from Sukhetar airport, Taplejung. The Chief District Officer of Taplejung is leading a 17-member coordination team for search and rescue. They will be the focal point for communications, which will be verified in the field.

Although the weather has improved slightly, visibility is still a problem in Ghunsa and Taplejung.

Helicopter Missing in Kanchenjunga: 23 September 2006
A Shri Air helicopter carrying delegates who had gone to attend the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area handover at Taplpejung are missing. The flight left this Ghunsa this afternoon at 12pm but did not arrived as per schedule (a 20 minute flight) back to Taplejung. A rescue helicopter was sent to combing the area but has returned to Kathmandu due to bad weather. Two rescue rescue teams have set on foot from Ghunsa and Taplejung.

List of persons aboard Shri Air 9NAHJ

  • Mr. Gopal Rai, Minister of State for Forest and his wife Mrs. Meena Rai
  • Mr. Sharad Rai, Director General of Department of Forests
  • Dr. Damodar Parajuli, Secretary of State of Forests and Soil Conservation
  • Mr. Narayan Poudel, Director General of Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation
  • Mr. Pauli Mustonen Charge d'Affaires, Embassy of Finland
  • Ms. Margaret Alexander, Deputy Director - United States Agency for International Development in Nepal
  • Dr. Bijnan Acharya, Program Development Specialist - United States Agency for International Development in Nepal
  • Mr. Dawa Tshering, Chairperson, Kangchenjunga Conservation Area Management Council
  • Dr. Jill Bowling Schlaepfer, Conservation Director, WWF UK
  • Ms. Jennifer Headley, Coordinator – Himalayas/South Asia Programme, WWF UK
  • Mr. Mingma Norbu Sherpa, Managing Director- Eastern Himalayas Program, WWF-US
  • Mr. Matthew Preece, Program Officer, WWF US
  • Dr. Chandra Gurung, Country Representative, WWF Nepal
  • Dr. Harka Gurung, Advisor, WWF Nepal
  • Dr. Tirtha Man Maskey, Co-Chair, Asian Rhino Specialist Group
  • Mrs. Yeshi Choden Lama, WWF Nepal
  • Mr. Vijaya Shrestha, Central Committee Member, Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry
  • Mr. Hem Raj Bhandari, Nepal Television
  • Mr. Sunil Singh, Nepal Television
  • Captain Klim Kim
  • Captain Mingma Sherpa,
  • Flight Engineer Valeriy Safronov
  • Cabin Attendant Guruwar Tandul

No News of Missing Helicopter: 21.00 NST – 23 September 2006
There has been no communication from the Shree Air helicopter missing in Kangchenjunga Conservation Area since 12pm this afternoon. Search and rescue missions via helicopter and on foot will resume at dawn tomorrow, weather permitting.

Still Missing 18.35 NST – 23 September 2006
Rescue efforts are still underway to locate the Shree Air helicopter with 24 people on board that left Ghunsa in Kangchenjunga this afternoon at 12 PM.

Two groups on the ground from Lelep and Ghunsa are combing the mountainous area. They are making a valiant effort despite the rain and cold conditions in the mountains.

This afternoon, an Air Dynasty helicopter made aerial surveys of the lower reaches of Ghunsa but visibility was low. The 5-seater helicopter will be at standby in Ghunsa tonight. Earlier in the day a Nepal Army helicopter flew to Kangchenjunga but returned to Kathmandu because of bad weather. It will fly there tomorrow. A 24-seater helicopter from Air Dynasty is already at the eastern city of Biratnagar and will fly out to Kangchenjunga at first light and weather permitting.

WWF Nepal thanks everyone for their concern. Tonight, we are still hopeful and pray for the safety of all on-board the Shree Air flight.