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At least 64 have died in Nepal’s worst air disaster in 30 years

At least 64 have died in Nepal’s worst air disaster in 30 years

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KATHMANDU, Jan 15 (Reuters) – At least 64 people were killed on Sunday when a domestic flight crashed in Nepal’s Pokhara, the worst air disaster in the tiny Himalayan country in three decades.

Hundreds of rescuers were searching the hill where the Yeti Airlines flight carrying 72 people from the capital Kathmandu crashed.

Local television showed rescuers scrambling around the broken parts of the plane. Part of the terrain near the crash site was scorched, with flames visible.

“We have sent 31 bodies to the hospital and are still removing 33 bodies from the gorge,” said police official Ajay KC, adding that rescue workers were having difficulty reaching the site in a gorge between two hills near the tourist town’s airport.

Reuters Graphics

The crash was the deadliest in Nepal since 1992, the Aviation Safety Network database showed, when a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A300 crashed into a hill on approach to Kathmandu, killing all 167 people on board.

The plane touched down at the airport from Seti Gorge at 10:50 am (05:05 GMT), aviation authorities said in a statement. “Then it crashed.”

“Half of the plane is on the slope,” said Arun Tamu, a local resident who told Reuters he reached the site minutes after the plane went down. “The other half fell into the gorge of the Seti River.”

Khum Bahadur Chhetri said he watched from the roof of his house as the plane approached.

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

The government has set up a team to investigate the cause of the crash and it is expected to report back within 45 days, Finance Minister Bishnu Paudel told reporters.

A SERIES OF CATASTROPHE

At least 309 people have died since 2000 in an airplane or helicopter crashed in Nepal – home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest – where sudden changes in weather can lead to dangerous conditions.

The European Union has banned Nepali airlines from entering its airspace since 2013, citing safety concerns.

Those on the twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft included two infants and four crew members, airline spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula said.

The drive to Pokhara, Nepal’s second-largest city nestled beneath the scenic Annapurna mountain range, from the capital Kathmandu is one of the most popular tourist routes in the Himalayan country, with many preferring a short flight to a six-hour journey over hilly roads.

The weather on Sunday was clear, said Jagannath Nirula, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.

Among the passengers are five Indians, four Russians and one Irishman, two South Koreans, one Australian, one Frenchman and one Argentinian national.

European aircraft manufacturer ATR’s ATR72 is a widely used twin-engine turboprop aircraft produced by a joint venture of Airbus (AIR.PA) and the Italian Leonardo (LDOF.MI). Yeti Airlines has a fleet of six ATR72-500 aircraft, according to their website.

“ATR professionals are fully committed to supporting both the investigation and the customer,” the company said on Twitter, adding that its first thoughts were with those affected after being informed of the incident.

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

Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 reported on Twitter that the Yeti Airlines plane is 15 years old and equipped with an old transponder with unreliable data.

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

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

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

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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