At least 40 dead in Nepal’s worst air crash in nearly five years

KATHMANDU, Jan 15 (Reuters) – At least 40 people were killed when a domestic flight crashed in Pokhara, Nepal, on Sunday, in the tiny Himalayan nation’s worst crash in nearly five years.

Hundreds of rescuers are on the hillside searching for the place where a Yeti Airlines flight with 72 people on board crashed from the capital Kathmandu. Nepal Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Jagannath Niroula said the weather was fine.

Local television showed rescuers scrambling around the damaged part of the plane. Some ground near the crash site was scorched and traces of flames could be seen.

“The plane was on fire,” said police officer Ajay KC, adding that rescuers had difficulty reaching the scene in a canyon between two mountains near the airport in the tourist town.

Reuters pictures

The airship made contact with the airport at 10:50 a.m. (0505 GMT) from Seti Canyon, aviation authorities said in a statement. “And then it crashed.”

“Half of the plane was on the hillside,” said local resident Arun Tamu, who told Reuters he arrived at the scene minutes after the plane crashed. “The other half fell into the gorge of the Seti River.”

Khum Bahadur Chhetri said he saw it from the roof of his home as the plane approached.

“I saw the plane trembling, moving side to side and then suddenly nose-dive into a canyon,” Chetri told Reuters, adding that local residents took two passengers to hospital.

series of crashes

The crash was Nepal’s deadliest since March 2018, when a U.S.-Bangla Dash 8 turboprop from Dhaka crashed while landing in Kathmandu, according to the Aviation Safety Network. 51 of the 71 people were killed.

Since 2000, at least 309 people have died in plane or helicopter crashes in Nepal — home to eight of the world’s 14 tallest mountains — where weather can change suddenly and lead to dangerous conditions. The European Union has banned Nepal Airlines from its airspace since 2013 due to security concerns.

Passengers on the twin-engine ATR 72 plane included two infants and four crew members, airline spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula said. The passengers included five Indians, four Russians and one Irishman, two South Koreans, an Australian, a Frenchman and an Argentinian.

The ATR72 is a widely used twin-engine turboprop made by a joint venture between Airbus SA (AIR.PA) and Italy’s Leonardo SA. According to its website, Yeti has a fleet of six ATR72-500 aircraft.

Flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 tweeted that the Yeti plane was 15 years old and equipped with old transponders with unreliable data.

“We are downloading high-resolution data and verifying data quality,” it said.

Yeti describes itself on its website as Nepal’s leading domestic airline.

After the plane crash, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal called an emergency cabinet meeting.

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

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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