68 dead in Nepal plane crash while landing

The aircraft’s fuselage was split into several pieces, and smoke was seen swirling in the video as rescuers searched for survivors.

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Dozens of rescuers and onlookers gathered near a steep gorge outside a resort town in central Nepal where a regional passenger plane crashed Sunday as rescuers combed through the debris at the edge of the cliff and into the gorge below.

So far, 68 people have been confirmed dead after a regional passenger plane carrying 72 passengers crashed into a ravine while landing at the newly reopened airport in the resort town of Pokhara, according to a post posted by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority on Twitter. It is the deadliest plane crash in the country in three decades.

It was not immediately clear what caused the accident.

An eyewitness said he saw the plane spinning violently in the air after he began his landing attempt while watching from the terrace of his house. Gaurav Gurung said that the plane first fell headfirst to the left and then crashed into a ravine.

At the crash site near the Seti River, nearly a mile from Pokhara International Airport, rescuers sprayed fire hoses and lowered ropes to another smoldering piece of wreckage below. Some of the bodies, charred beyond recognition, were taken by firefighters to hospitals, where heartbroken relatives gathered. At the Kathmandu airport, family members looked distraught as they were escorted, and exchanged heated words with officials from time to time, waiting for information.

“The plane caught fire after the fall. There was smoke everywhere,” Gurung said.

The aviation authority said the plane last made contact with the airport near Seti Gorge at 10:50 a.m. before crashing.

A twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft operated by the Nepalese airline Yeti Airlines flew from the capital Kathmandu to Pokhara (27 minutes flight). There were 68 passengers on board, including 15 foreign nationals, as well as four crew members, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said in a statement. Among the foreigners were five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France. No survivors have been found yet.

Tek Bahadur K.S., senior administrative officer for the Kaski district, said he expects rescuers to find more bodies at the bottom of the gorge.

Images and videos posted on Twitter show puffs of smoke billowing from the crash site as rescuers, Nepalese soldiers and crowds of people gathered around the wreckage to search for survivors. The fuselage of the aircraft was divided into several parts scattered across the gorge.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who arrived at the airport after the plane crash, set up a commission to investigate the accident.

“The incident was tragic. All the forces of the Nepalese army and police were involved in the rescue,” he said.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was still trying to confirm the fate of the two South Korean passengers and sent staff to the scene. Russian Ambassador to Nepal Alexei Novikov confirmed the death of four Russian citizens who were on board the aircraft.

The type of aircraft used, the ATR 72, was used by several airlines around the world for short regional flights. Introduced in the late 1980s by a French-Italian partnership, this aircraft model has seen several fatal accidents over the years. In 2018, an Iranian Aseman Airlines ATR 72 crashed in a foggy mountainous area, killing all 65 people on board.

In Taiwan, two previous accidents involving ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 aircraft occurred only a few months apart.

In July 2014, a TransAsia ATR 72-500 crashed while attempting to land in the scenic Penghu archipelago between Taiwan and China, killing 48 people on board. The same Taiwanese airline’s ATR 72-600 crashed shortly after takeoff in Taipei in February 2015 after one of its engines failed and the other was turned off, apparently by mistake.

The 2015 disaster, captured in dramatic footage of a plane crashing into a taxi as it went out of control, killing 43 people and prompting authorities to temporarily stop all Taiwan-registered ATR 72s. TransAsia stopped everything flights in 2016, and then ceased operations.

ATR identified the plane involved in Sunday’s crash as an ATR 72-500 in a tweet. According to aircraft tracking data from Flightradar24.com, the aircraft was 15 years old and “equipped with an old transponder with invalid data.” According to entries on Airfleets.net, it was previously flown by Indian airlines Kingfisher Airlines and Thailand’s Nok Air before Yeti took over in 2019.

The Yeti Airlines fleet consists of six ATR72-500 aircraft, company spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula said.

Pokhara, located 125 miles west of Kathmandu, is the gateway to the Annapurna Trail, a popular hiking trail in the Himalayas. The city’s new international airport began operations just two weeks ago. It was built with Chinese construction and financial support. Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Chen Song tweeted that he was “very shocked” to learn of the accident.

“At this difficult time, our thoughts are with the Nepalese people. I would like to express my deep condolences to the victims and sincere condolences to the families of the victims,” he wrote.

Sunday’s crash was Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed into a hill while trying to land in Kathmandu.

Home to eight of the 14 highest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest, Nepal has been the scene of numerous plane crashes. Since 1946, there have been 42 fatal air crashes in Nepal, according to the Air Safety Database of the Aviation Safety Foundation.

Last year, 22 people died in a plane crash on a mountainside in Nepal. In 2016, a Tara Air Twin Otter flying from Pokhara to Kathmandu crashed after takeoff, killing all 23 people on board.

In 2012, an Agni Air plane flying from Pokhara to Jomsom crashed, killing 15 people. Six people survived. In 2014, a Nepalese Airlines flight flying from Pokhara to Jumla crashed, killing all 18 people on board.

In 1992, all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed into a hill while trying to land in Kathmandu.

The European Union has banned airlines from Nepal from flying to the block of 27 countries since 2013, citing lax safety standards. In 2017, the International Civil Aviation Organization reported improvements in Nepal’s aviation sector, but the EU continues to push for administrative reforms.

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