Sonu Jaiswal, 25, died in the plane crash in Nepal (Deepak Jaiswal via AP)
17 January 2023

Nepal co-pilot’s husband died in 2006 crash while flying for same airline

17 January 2023

Details of the final moments before the Nepal plane disaster have been revealed as it emerged the co-pilot’s husband died in a 2006 crash while flying for the same airline.

Passenger Sonu Jaiswal’s 90-second smartphone video shows the aircraft approaching the runway by flying over buildings and green fields in Pokhara, a Nepalese city in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Everything looked normal as Mr Jaiswal’s livestream on Facebook shifted from the picturesque views seen from the plane’s window to fellow passengers who were laughing.

But then the plane suddenly appeared to veer toward its left as Mr Jaiswal’s smartphone briefly captured the cries of passengers. Within seconds the footage turned shaky and recorded the screeching sound of an engine. Towards the end of the video, huge flames and smoke took over the frame.

The Yeti Airlines flight from Kathmandu that plummeted into a gorge on Sunday, killing at least 70 of the 72 on board, was co-piloted by Anju Khatiwada, who had pursued years of pilot training in the United States after her husband died in a 2006 plane crash while flying for the same airline. Her colleagues described her as a skilled pilot who was very motivated.

The deaths of Ms Khatiwada, 44, and Mr Jaiswal, 25, are part of a deadly pattern in Nepal, a country that has seen a series of air crashes over the years, in part due to difficult terrain, bad weather and ageing fleets.

Two days after the crash, Nepal’s deadliest air crash in 30 years, search crews continued to comb through debris scattered down the 300m-deep gorge to find two more people who remained missing on Tuesday but are presumed dead.

In India’s Ghazipur city, nearly 270 miles south of the crash site in Nepal, Mr Jaiswal’s family was distraught and still waiting to identify his body. His father, Rajendra Prasad Jaiswal, had boarded a car to Kathmandu on Monday evening and was expected to reach Nepal’s capital late on Tuesday.

“It’s a tough wait,” said Jaiswal’s brother, Deepak Jaiswal.

The news of the plane crashing in Pokhara reached his home barely minutes after the accident as news channels began broadcasting images of the aircraft’s mangled wreckage, still burning and billowing thick grey smoke, Deepak Jaiswal said.

Still, the family was not willing to trust the news, holding out hope for his survival.

By Sunday evening, however, it had become clear. Mr Deepak, who confirmed the authenticity of Jaiswal’s livestream to The Associated Press, was among the first in his family to watch the video that has since gone viral on the internet.

“We couldn’t believe the news until we saw the video,” he said. “It was painful.”

Mr Jaiswal, a father of three children, worked at a local liquor store in Alawalpur Afga village in Uttar Pradesh state’s Ghazipur district. Deepak said his brother had gone to Kathmandu to visit Pashupatinath temple — a Hindu shrine dedicated to the god Shiva — and pray for a son, before setting off to Pokhara for sightseeing along with three other friends.

“He was not just my brother,” Deepak Jaiswal said. “I have lost a friend in him.”

The tragedy was felt deeply in Nepal, as 53 passengers were from the country.

Hundreds of relatives and friends of the victims consoled each other at a local hospital. Families of some victims whose bodies have been identified prepared funerals for their loved ones.

Co-pilot Ms Kathiwada’s colleagues, however, were still in disbelief.

“She was a very good pilot and very experienced,” Yeti Airlines spokesperson Pemba Sherpa said.

She began flying for Yeti Airlines in 2020, four years after her husband, Dipak Pokhrel, died in a crash.

He was flying a DHC-6 Twin Otter 300 plane for the same airline when it crashed in Nepal’s Jumla district and burst into flames, killing all nine people on board. Ms Kathiwada later remarried.

Mr Sherpa said Ms Kathiwada was a “skilled pilot” with a “friendly nature” and had risen to the rank of captain after flying thousands of hours since joining the airline in 2010.

“We have lost our best,” Mr Sherpa said.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox