At least 44 killed in Nepal’s worst air crash in nearly five years

KATHMANDU, Jan 15 (Reuters) – At least 44 people were killed on Sunday when a domestic flight crashed in Nepal’s Pokhara, an aviation authority official said, the tiny Himalayan country’s worst in nearly five years. I.

Hundreds of rescue workers were combing the hilltop where the Yeti Airlines flight carrying 72 people from the capital Kathmandu went down. Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal spokesman Jagannath Nerula said the weather was clear.

“Thirty bodies have been recovered and sent to hospital,” Nerula told Reuters. “A further 14 bodies are still lying at the crash site and authorities are bringing in cranes to move them.”

Local TV showed rescue workers wading through the wreckage 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 rescue workers were having trouble reaching the scene in a ravine between two hills near the tourist town’s airport.

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The plane approached Siti Gorge airport at 10:50 a.m. (0505 GMT), the aviation authority said in a statement. “Then it crashed.”

“Half the plane is on the side of the hill,” said Arun Tamu, a local resident who told Reuters he arrived at the site minutes after the plane crashed. “The other half has fallen into the Whistle River Gorge.”

Khum Bahadur Chhetri said he saw the flight approaching from the roof of his house.

“I saw the plane shaking, moving left and right, and then suddenly its nose dipped and it went into the gorge,” Chhetri told Reuters. He added that two passengers were taken to the hospital by local residents.

Finance Minister Bishnu Padil told reporters that the government has set up a panel to investigate the cause of the accident and is expected to submit a report within 45 days.

A series of crashes

According to the Aviation Safety Network, the accident is Nepal’s deadliest since March 2018, when a US-Bangla Dash 8 turboprop flight from Dhaka crashed on landing in Kathmandu. Of the 71 people on board, 51 were killed.

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

The European Union has banned Nepalese airlines from its airspace since 2013, citing security concerns.

Airline spokesman Sudarshan Bertola said the twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft included two infants and four crew members.

Among the passengers were five Indians, four Russians and one Irish, two South Koreans, one Australian, one French and one Argentinian.

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

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“ATR experts are fully engaged to assist both the investigation and the customer,” the company said on Twitter, adding that its first thoughts were for those affected after the accident was reported.

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 outdated transponder that contained unreliable data.

“We are downloading high-resolution data and verifying the quality of the data,” he said.

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

Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Additional reporting by Jamie Fried; Written by Dev Jyot Ghoshal and Aditya Kalra; Edited by William Mallard

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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