The Yeti Airlines plane crash in Nepal is the third worst aviation incident in the Himalayan country. Two videos taken just seconds before the plane crash have left the whole world shocked. The videos are disturbing in a way perhaps like never before. But they only bring up more and more questions.
One of the videos is the most harrowing one, as it broadcast the plane crash from inside the flight to the whole wide world.
The video of the plane crash from inside the ill-fated Yeti Airlines flight was taken by a victim, Sonu Jaiswal, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, India.
The Facebook Live showed Jaiswal and three of his friends recording the landing, laughing and having fun.
In the video, one of them can be heard saying "Mauj Kar Di (It's real fun)," as the camera shows the aerial view of the Pokhra town and pans to Sonu Jaiswal's smiling face.
One moment, we see the excited face of Jaiswal, the other moment, the phone seems to fall off and flames appear in the frame. In what is the most chilling part of the sequence of events, the live broadcast continues even after the crash.
The video's authenticity was confirmed by Jaiswal's cousin Rajat Jaiswal.
Sonu was on Facebook Live after boarding the flight for Pokhara. The live-streaming showed that Sonu and his companions were in a happy mood but all of a sudden flames appeared before the streaming stopped.
- Rajat Jaiswal, victim Sonu Jaiswal's cousin (AFP)
But the first question that comes to mind after seeing the video is how did Jaiswal go live on Facebook while still on the flight?
The first thing we do as passengers on a flight, as we are told to, is to either switch off our cellphone or put it on Airplane mode.
The use of phones is prohibited while taking off and landing and it is common knowledge.
So, what are we to make of Sonu Jaiswal's tragic last Facebook live and the plane crash? To make sense of it, we need to answer a few basic questions first:
Why are cellphones banned on flights? The US FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) bans the use of mobile phones mainly to prevent network overload on the ground.
This is because cellphones don't have network thousands of feet up in the air when the flight is at cruising altitude.
But our phones, nonetheless, try to connect to the networks on the ground relentlessly. This mostly causes the phone battery to drain and perhaps hamper communication on the ground.
The other reason is to ensure safety on flights. In theory, there is a concern that phone signals MAY interfere with the navigation and communication systems of the plane.
Those signals are very, very precise, and the autopilot flying those signals is also very, very precise. This is not the time when you want any variability at all, especially when you have terrain considerations.
- Shawn Pruchnicki, professor at the Center for Aviation Studies at The Ohio State University
DailyO also spoke to a pilot on condition of anonymity who said that at most phone signals can interfere with the communication system on a flight, like when a pilot is trying to contact the ATC.
You must have observed that when you board a flight, flight attendants ask you to put your phone on airplane mode or switch it off. Nobody is checking each and every passenger's phone to ensure everyone is following the rules. However, while most of us turn off our phones, there are some passengers who don't follow the rules.
A 2017 survey by Allianz Global Assistance in the US found that about 40% of passengers left their cell phones on while flying.
There is no doubt that there are some passengers here in India as well as in Nepal, who don't turn off their phones.
Despite the staggering numbers, so far, there has not been a single plane crash in history attributed to the use of phones.
Maybe if every single passenger on a flight were to start using their phone, there might be a concern, but a lack of testing and evidence makes it hard to say what might happen.
In-flight cell service: Now, some countries allow airlines to offer passengers in-flight connectivity for free or for a fee.
The Indian airspace has recently given the nod for Indian and foreign airlines to offer in-flight connectivity. Similarly, Nepal and the EU allow in-flight connectivity. The US airspace is yet to warm up to the idea.
The in-flight connectivity differs from airline to airline. Some offer WiFi connectivity to stream movies or music on in-flight entertainment system, while others allow internet voice calls as well.
This is facilitated on a different frequency than the one the flight system uses, to ensure there is a minimal risk of interference.
European regulators will also soon allow 5G-enabled phones to be used to full capacity during flights. This is again because 5G phones use a different frequency than the airline systems.
But 5G phone use on flights won't be allowed everywhere. The US has strictly banned it as the US 5G frequency is said to be stronger than the ones in Europe.
In other words, while turning off phones or putting them in airplane mode is better than feeling sorry later, there is still no evidence that phone use can cause plane crashes. (Honestly, if phones COULD cause planes to crash, the guidelines and checks on ensuring they were switched off would have been far tighter)
Sonu Jaiswal's Facebook Live gave an insight into how unpredictable a flight might be. On the other hand, a phone signal also led authorities to a plane crash site in Nepal in another case.
When the Tara Airlines flight crashed in May 2022 after taking off from Pokhra, authorities weren't able to find the location of the crash for a while due to bad weather conditions. But one of the pilot's phones was ringing. Authorities were able to trace the location of the phone and locate the crash site. This also meant that the pilot did not have his phone turned off or on airplane mode.