By LB THAPA FOR ONTOTHEROAD.COM

Pokhara has already carved a niche in adventure sports. Domestic tourists and foreign tourists regularly visit Pokhara for the experience of adventure. Some adventure activities like trekking, kayaking, rafting, caving, mountain biking and boating have been available for years. But over the last few years, ultra light aircraft, paragliding, zip flyer and bungee jumping have added extra thrill and adventure among the adventure loving enthusiasts.

The promotion of tourism is necessary for the development of tourism, because tourism is the backbone of Nepali economy. Tourism industry alone has provided largest employment after agriculture in the country. In a situation like this collective effort is utmost necessary for the development of tourism industry.

Late Stephen Shrestha, founder and owner of Avia Club Nepal.
The ill-fated plane which met an accident and took the lives of Stephen Shrestha and a Chinese tourist.
Due to many paragliding companies the sky over Pokhara has become increasingly unsafe. Photo: supernepal.com

However, it is also true that the line between adventure and accident is very thin. If adequate attention and preparation have not been maintained then any moment adventure can turn into accident. And if accidents are repeated, this might affect the entire adventure tourism sector of the country. Most unfortunately, regular occurrences of fatal accidents with paragliding and ultra light aircrafts, these adventure sports have created doubts in the minds of adventure enthusiasts.

On March 3, Ebe Chisjer, 42, a Romanian citizen lost his life when his paraglide dropped in the middle of Fewa lake. He was rescued by the local boatmen and the victim was taken to Metro city hospital, where he died during the treatment.

Just two days later, on March 5, Dmitril Stepanishin, a Russian citizen, his paraglide fell on rocks to death.

Similarly, on March 4, yet two-paraglide pilots crash landed and met serious injuries. To prevent further accident, the Civil Aviation Authority Pokhara has banned for solo paragliding flight for infinite time.  

It is the sheer example of corruption that there are over 60 paragliding companies, which have been registered in Pokhara. Paragliding experts believe that there should not be over 15 paragliding companies in operation. Any number more than this will only make sky much riskier for paragliding. Increasing numbers of paragliding accidents are the testimony to the fact that now paragliding has become much riskier than ever before in the sky of Pokhara.

It is true with ultra light aircrafts as well. In fact ultra light aircrafts have earned more notoriety than any other adventure sports in Pokhara.         

Avia Club Nepal had come into operation in 1996 with the purpose of the Pokhara valley sightseeing. But in the recent time one after another accidents and deaths of the pilots and passengers have raised some serious doubts about the safety and security related issues with the ultra light aircrafts owned by Avia Club Nepal.

Over the period of a short span of time Avia Club Nepal has lost some of its most experienced pilots including the founder proprietor of Avia Club Nepal. Stephen Shrestha, the founder and proprietor of Avia Club Nepal, had also become the victim of his adventure business. Unfortunately, Stephen Shrestha’s dream of taking his business to a great height fell apart with the loss of his own life.

The spree of deaths of pilots did not stop even after the loss of Stephen Shrestha. In days to come more pilots lost their lives in the Ultra light accidents.

In 2013 Stephen Shrestha, the proprietor of Avia Club Nepal, flew his ill fated Ultra Light aircraft with Liu Jian, a Chinese passenger. Stephen Shrestha had never thought it would be last flight of his life. Shrestha had so much experience and self-confidence that he would never think anything less than an adventurous flight.

But he was wrong on that day. The aircraft Stephen Shrestha was flying lost its balance and crashed near Shanti Stupa, Pokhara. The eyewitnesses said that the Ultra Light was completely out of control before it took a nosedive. The accident was so brutal that the pilot and the passenger breathed their last on the spot.

Only last year one more Ultra Light aircraft 9N-ALI aircraft had gone missing with its Russian pilot Valerie Putin and the South African passenger Elizabeth Well. After much search the debris of ultra light aircraft was found near Mt. Fish Tail. The mortal remains of pilot and the passenger could be found only after intensive search around the icy slopes.    

The streak of accidents has not stopped. Some time ago in a tragic accident of Ultra Light, the most senior and highly skilled Russian pilot Alexandr Maximov, has also lost his life. The accident took place soon after the take off, leaving Jillene Marie Volker, the Canadian passenger with serious injuries.

Alexander Maximov is much remembered by the Pokhareli people for his timely information about the Seti River flashflood that occurred on May 5, 2012. The flashflood took the lives of 40 persons and another 30 persons went missing.

However, the loss of life could be more if Alexander Maximov had not informed the authority in time. Maximov was most senior ultra light pilot with 5,000 hours of flight experience in Pokhara. On top he was flying ultra light aircraft for the last 14 years. Maximov had also flown ‘Danphe’ an ultra light aircraft which was engineered by a team of Nepali youths.

Alexander Maximov was passing through Mt.Fishtail when he saw a huge cloud of dust from his Ultra Light. He flew closer and found it was a massive flashflood which was coming down at a lightning speed.

Understanding the gravity of seriousness, Maximov contacted Pokhara Airport control tower and informed about the impending danger. The Pokhara Airport Control Tower then informed the District Police Office. The District Police took action immediately and sent a police team to alert the people living nearby the Seti River.

At the time there were over three dozen people collecting sand at the Seti Bagar, Ramghat. The police team reached there and asked the people for vacating the river bank. Had Maximov not informed about the devastative flashflood, most probably all the people collecting sand at the Seti River would be dead.

However, the people at Tatopani were not as lucky as the Pokhareli people. On the fateful day most of the picnic groups were enjoying at Tatopani. These people could not get any alert warning from any source; as a result most of the people lost their lives in the flashflood.   

According to the local eyewitness, Alexander Maximov had taken off with Jillene Marie Volker, the Canadian passenger, from Avia Club Nepal’s own Lauruk based airfield but crashed immediately after the flight. The accident left the pilot dead on the spot and the passenger was found with critical injuries. Injured Volker received treatment at Gandaki Medical College, Pokhara.

Keeping Nepal Tourism 2020 in view, Nepal Tourism Board must act sensibly by appointing a team of experts to check all adventure sports in the country and immediate actions should be taken to ensure safety and security of the passengers.

Every possible step should be taken to stop further accidents in adventure sports. Before tourists ask questions about the safety and security of their lives, timely government intervention is much necessary.

Thank you very much for reading this article. I hope you liked this article. I will be glad if you take little time and make a comment about this article. Your comment is highly appreciated.

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LB THAPA, BLOGGER

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2 Comments

  1. Magan Gurung, Kathmandu, Nepal Reply

    I agree with the writer of this article. You cannot pull tourists only by building tall hotels. Pay attention to safety and security of tourists.

  2. Newa Bhattarai, Kathmandu, Nepal Reply

    Frequently occurring accidents in paragliding and ultralight have made adventure sports quite unsafe in Pokhara.

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