At least 44 dead in Nepal’s worst plane crash in nearly five years

KATHMANDU, Jan. 15 (Reuters) – At least 44 people were killed when a domestic flight crashed in Nepal’s Pokhara on Sunday, an aviation authority official said.

Hundreds of rescuers were scouring the hill where the Yeti Airlines plane carrying 72 people from the capital Kathmandu crashed. The weather was clear, said Jagannath Niroula, spokesman for the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority.

“Thirty bodies have been recovered and sent to hospital,” Niroula told Reuters. “Another 14 bodies are still at the crash site and authorities are deploying a crane to move them.”

Local TV showed rescuers scrambling around broken parts of the plane. Part of the ground near the crash site was scorched, with flames visible.

“The plane is on fire,” police official Ajay KC said, adding that rescuers struggled to reach the site in a canyon between two hills near the tourist town’s airport.

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The craft made contact with the airport from Seti Gorge at 10:50 am (0505 GMT), the aviation authority said in a statement. “Then it crashed.”

“Half the plane is on the hill,” said Arun Tamu, a local resident, who told Reuters he reached the location minutes after the plane crashed. “The other half fell into the gorge of the Seti River.”

Khum Bahadur Chhetri said he watched the flight approach from the roof of his home.

“I saw the plane shake, move left and right, and then suddenly its nose dived and it went into the canyon,” Chhetri told Reuters, adding that local residents took two passengers to a hospital.

The government has set up a panel to investigate the cause of the crash and is expected to report within 45 days, Finance Minister Bishnu Paudel told reporters.

SERIES CRASHING

The crash is the deadliest in Nepal since March 2018, when a US-Bangla Dash 8 turboprop flight from Dhaka crashed on landing in Kathmandu, killing 51 of the 71 people on board, according to Aviation Safety Network.

At least 309 people have died in plane or helicopter crashes since 2000 in Nepal – home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest – where sudden changes in weather can create dangerous conditions.

The European Union has banned Nepalese airlines from its airspace since 2013 over safety concerns.

The passengers of the twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft included two infants and four crew members, the airline’s spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula said.

The passengers included five Indians, four Russians and an Irishman, two South Koreans, an Australian, a Frenchman and an Argentinian.

The ATR72 of the European aircraft manufacturer ATR is a widely used twin-engine turboprop aircraft, manufactured by a joint venture of Airbus (AIR.PA) and the Italian Leonardo. Yeti Airlines has a fleet of six ATR72-500 aircraft, according to its website.

“ATR specialists are fully committed to supporting both the investigation and the customer,” the company said on Twitter, adding that its initial thoughts were for those affected after being notified of the accident.

Airbus and Leonardo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 said on Twitter that the Yeti Airlines plane was 15 years old and was equipped with an old transponder with unreliable data.

“We download high-resolution data and verify the quality of the data,” it said.

On its website, Yeti describes itself as a leading domestic airline. The fleet consists of six ATR 72-500s, including the one that crashed. It also owns Tara Air, and the two together provide the “broadest network” in Nepal, the company says.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed; Written by Devjyot Ghoshal and Aditya Kalra; Edited by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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