In the smallest Himalayan nation’s worst tragedy in over five years, a civilian airplane crashed in Pokhara on Sunday, killing at least 40 passengers, according to a representative of the aviation authority.
The hillside where the Yeti Airlines flight, carrying 72 people from the capital Kathmandu, crashed was being searched by hundreds of rescuers. According to Jagannath Niroula, spokesman for Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority, the weather was clear.
Rescuers were seen scurrying around the wreckage of the aircraft on local television. There were apparent licks of flame on some of the charred earth close to the crash site.
“The plane is burning,” said police official Ajay K.C., adding that rescue workers were having difficulty reaching the site in a gorge between two hills near the tourist town’s airport.
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 of the plane is on the hillside,” said Arun Tamu, a local resident, who told Reuters he reached the site minutes after the plane went down.“ “The other half has fallen into the gorge of the Seti river.”
According to Aviation Safety Network, the accident 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 persons on board.
Since 2000, at least 309 people have perished in helicopter or plane crashes in Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s fourteen tallest mountains, including Everest, and where the weather is unpredictable and dangerous. Since 2013, Nepali planes have been prohibited from using EU airspace due to safety reasons.
According to airline spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula, those on board the twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft included two infants and four crew members. Onboard were five people from India, four from Russia, one from Ireland, two from South Korea, one from, one from France, and one from Argentina.
The plane was 15 years old, according to the flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
The ATR72 is a widely used twin-engine turboprop plane manufactured by a joint venture of Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo. Yeti Airlines has a fleet of six ATR72-500 planes, according to its website.
FlightRadar24 said the aircraft was equipped with an old transponder with unreliable data. “We are downloading high-resolution data and verifying the data quality,” it said on Twitter.
Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has called an emergency cabinet meeting after the plane crash.