At least 44 people were killed in Nepal’s worst plane crash in five years

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

Hundreds of rescue workers were searching the hillside where the Eti Airlines flight carrying 72 people from the capital Kathmandu went down. The weather was clear, said Jagannath Nirola, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.

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

Local television showed rescue workers scrambling around the wreckage of the plane. Some land near the crash site was burnt and flames were visible.

“The plane is on fire,” said police officer Ajay KC, as rescue workers struggled to reach the spot in a valley between two hills near the tourist town’s airport.

Reuters Graphics

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

“Half of the plane is on the hillside,” said local resident Arun Thamu, who told Reuters he reached the spot minutes after the plane went down. “The other half has fallen into the valley of the river Seti.”

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

“I saw the plane shaking, moving left and right, then suddenly its nose dipped and it went into the valley,” Chhetri told Reuters, adding that locals took the two passengers to hospital.

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The government has set up a committee to probe the cause of the crash and it is expected to report within 45 days, Finance Minister Bishnu Patel told reporters.

A series of accidents

It was Nepal’s worst accident since March 2018, when a US-Bangla Dash 8 turboprop plane from Dhaka crashed on landing in Kathmandu, killing 51 of the 71 people on board, the Aviation Safety Network said.

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

The European Union has banned Nepali flights from its airspace since 2013 due to security concerns.

Two infants and four crew members were among those on board the twin-engine ATR 72, airline spokesman Sudarshan Bardaula said.

The passengers included five Indians, four Russians and one Irish, two South Koreans, one Australian, one French and one Argentine.

The ATR72 by European aircraft manufacturer ATR is a widely used twin-engine turboprop aircraft produced by a joint venture with Airbus. (AIR.PA) and Leonardo of Italy. Eti Airlines has six ATR72-500 aircraft, according to its website.

“ATR experts are fully engaged in supporting both the investigation and the customer,” the company said on Twitter, adding that its first thoughts were for the victims after being notified of the accident.

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

Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 tweeted that the Eti Airlines plane was 15 years old and fitted with an old transponder with unreliable data.

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

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

Report by Gopal Sharma; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed; Written by Devajyot Ghoshal and Aditya Kalra; Editing: William Mallard

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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