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When hope turned into despair

When hope turned into despair
Pokhara International Airport was recently inaugurated with fanfare.  There was a large turnout of locals and stakeholders. The event included a morning rally participated in by over 100 schools, community groups, women's groups, and other social organizations. Approximately 10,000 local people took part in the inauguration. The inauguration of the international airport was a significant event for the local community, as many residents shared pictures of the ceremony on social media. The event led to an increase in discussions and conversations in public places, as people hoped for new opportunities in tourism and overall development. People were optimistic that an inflow of more tourism will improve Pokhara’s economy. However, the joy was short-lived as a tragic plane crash near the airport caused a significant loss of lives. This incident raised many questions about the safety and utilization of air travel in Pokhara, turning the celebration into mourning.

Earlier this week, an ATR 72-500 of Yeti Airlines crashed at Seti Gorge in Pokhara-15 while attempting to land. While the cause of the crash is still under investigation, it has led to local residents expressing their concerns about the safety and sustainability of the airport. Grief and sorrow have spread among the community as they come to terms with the tragic event. Geographically, Pokhara is a place with many gorges carved by the Seti River and it has been identified as a risk area for the cryosphere due to the effects of climate change. Additionally, recent years have seen an increase in business and urbanization in the area.

Pokhara is also known for its high-income residents, such as the Sherpa, Thakali, and Lahure communities. Furthermore, Nepal Tourism Board reports that nearly 40% of all tourists in Nepal visit Pokhara every year, making air travel a popular choice among locals. According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), Pokhara airport is the second busiest in the country after Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. The crash site is a place of mourning, as relatives of the victims search for the remains of their loved ones. The hospital where post-mortem examinations are being conducted is also a place of sorrow, as families from faraway districts wait for days to see and claim the bodies of their loved ones. The community is also in mourning as locals express their condolences on social media and take part in condolence rallies. About a quarter of the victims have been identified so far. DNA testing is underway at the hospital and relatives are waiting anxiously for news, keeping watch at the entry gate of the hospital ignoring their own needs for food and shelter. Many stakeholders have taken various decisions in response to the tragedy. Social organizations in Pokhara have published formal and informal condolences. Rupa Rural Municipality of Kaski, which is the hometown of the late Captain Kamal KC, has decided to construct a memorial park with a statue of the pilot. The municipality has also lit up its wards in memory of the victims and to express their condolences. "Maybe I will not travel by air until complete security is ensured," said Santosh Poudel, a resident of Pokhara-11, Fulbari, as he sat with friends discussing the recent plane crash. His sentiment was echoed by his friends, who also expressed doubts about the suitability of the aircraft for Pokhara.  Similarly, Shree Ram Kandel, a resident of Pokhara-31, shared that he had decided to choose to travel by tourist bus, even in case of emergencies. Laxmi Dhakal of Pokhara-10, Budhha Chowk shared that she never expected the joy of the airport's inauguration to turn into such a tragic event so quickly. Jamuna Sharma of Pokhara-6, Lakeside, expressed her worries about how she will manage her busy schedule as a social worker who frequently travels to different districts. She said that people have no other options but to travel by air as people are getting increasingly busy. "I am just praying that such accidents do not happen again," she said. Similarly, Sushil Bastola of Pokhara-30, Sishuwa, shared that he had abandoned his plans to go abroad after feeling excited about the international airport as a major path to development in Pokhara. He expressed his concerns about how the airport will handle such problems in the future. Local residents also speculate that the accident may have been caused by birds flying on the runway. Hemanta Dhakal, a resident of Pokhara-14, Chauthe, said that if the problem of the birds' habitat and the garbage dump near the airport is resolved completely, it could prevent such accidents from happening in the future. Tourism stakeholders in the lake city underline the need to change the public perception and make flying safe but are still unsure about what mechanisms need to be put in place. However, they are hopeful that people will soon forget this tragic crash. "Accidents happen not only in air travel, so it should not be an issue. Instead, collective efforts to solve the problems are needed," Pom Narayan Shrestha, Chairperson of the Pokhara Tourism Council, said.