Former expat helicopter pilots had highlighted safety concerns but were ignored

A Helicopter of Druk Air crashed at Wachey in Lunana on Friday at 2.30 pm in the afternoon before reaching its destination.

The helicopter was carrying a father, mother and two daughters.

The mother and one daughter was confirmed dead while the father and another daughter survived with injuries but are stable.

The pilot who is an expatriate pilot is injured but stable.

The cause of the crash is not yet determined.

Earlier in January 2023 this paper did an investigative story of the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited or RBHSL (now named Drukair Helicopter Services) which highlighted among other things safety issues.

Former Chief Pilot Dave Peel at the RBHSL had alleged that the current head expat pilot, while being recruited, had failed to clear the assessment tests done by him as he was not up to the standard he had set for all previous pilots recruited by him.

However, Dave said that two weeks later the head expat pilot’s friend, also from South Africa, JB cleared him as an instructor.

To be clear the expat pilot who crashed is not the head expat pilot, but he comes under the supervision of the head expat pilot.

Dave had said that in his time, he gave emergency trainings and tests every four months for everyone including the expat pilots.

He said that it is not enough that pilots know who to fly, but they should be able to respond to situations.

He had said two of the main reasons why there are crashes in Nepal is that, firstly, it is very competitive and there are a lot of flights, and secondly, pilots there do not not get enough practical emergency training and so crash when emergencies come up.

In one instance in Bhutan, a helicopter pilot managed to do an emergency landing safely after all the oil came out of the helicopter as somebody had not replaced the washer properly.

Former RBHSL pilot Brett Wright said that in one high altitude flight, a Telecom company had put up towers and put high wires which were not there before and were not informed to RBHSL. He said he was carrying a minister with him, and it could have ended badly if he did not spot the wire in time.

He said he filed a safety report to RBHSL, but he did not see any action being taken.  He had said in January 2023 to this paper that if things are not improved then a crash cannot be ruled out some day.

The Prime Minister Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering in a statement said, “While we are still trying to comprehend the tragic helicopter crash at Lunana today, we pray for the mother and daughter who lost their lives to the tragic accident. Our primary concern now is the injured ones. We are going all out to closely monitor the health and status of the pilot and rest of the family members onboard.”

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