68 confirmed dead after plane crashes in Nepal resort town
Posted on Sunday, January 15, 2023 | 3:30 in the morning
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POKHARA, Nepal (AP) – A plane crash has killed at least 68 people, according to the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority. A regional passenger plane with 72 people on board crashed into a gorge while landing at a newly opened airport in the resort city of Pokhara on Sunday, in the country’s deadliest plane crash in three decades.
Scores of rescuers and onlookers gathered near a steep gorge on Sunday afternoon as rescuers combed the wreckage over the edge of the cliff and into the valley below.
Local resident Bishnu Tiwari, who rushed to the crash site near the Seti River to help search for bodies, said rescue efforts were hampered by thick smoke and a raging fire.
“The flames were so hot that we could not approach the ruins. I heard a man screaming for help, but due to the flames and smoke, we could not help him,” said Tiwari.
It was not immediately known what caused the accident.
A witness said he saw the plane twisting violently in the air after it started to land, watching from the terrace of his house. Finally, Gaurav Gurung said, the plane fell left side first and crashed into the gorge.
The aviation authority said the plane made last contact with the airport near the Seti Gorge at 10:50 a.m. before it crashed.
At the crash site, about 1.6 kilometers (almost a mile) away from Pokhara International Airport, the search continued on Sunday evening. Several bodies, burned beyond recognition, were transported by firefighters to hospitals, where grieving relatives had gathered. At Kathmandu airport, where the flight took off, family members appeared anxious as they were escorted in and sometimes exchanged heated words with officials as they waited for information.
The twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft, operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines, was flying from the capital, Kathmandu, to Pokhara, a 27-minute flight. It was carrying 68 passengers, including 15 foreign nationals, as well as four crew members, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said in a statement. The foreigners included five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France. No survivors have yet been found.
Tek Bahadur KC, a senior administrative officer in Kaski district, said he expected rescue workers to find more bodies at the bottom of the gorge.
Images and videos shared on Twitter showed plumes of smoke rising from the crash site as rescue workers, Nepalese soldiers and crowds gathered around the wreckage to search for survivors. The plane’s fuselage broke into numerous pieces that were scattered in the crater.
Chief Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who rushed to the airport after the crash, set up a panel to investigate the accident.
“The event was tragic. The full force of the Nepali army, police has been deployed for rescue,” he said.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it is still trying to confirm the fate of the two South Korean passengers and has dispatched staff to the scene. The Russian ambassador to Nepal, Alexei Novikov, confirmed the death of four Russian citizens on board the plane.
Pokhara, located 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Kathmandu, is the gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular Himalayan trekking trail. The city’s new international airport began operations just two weeks ago.
The type of aircraft involved, the ATR 72, is used by airlines around the world for short regional flights. Introduced in the late 1980s by a French and Italian partnership, the aircraft model has been involved in several fatal accidents over the years.
In Taiwan, two previous accidents involving ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 aircraft occurred just a few months apart.
In July 2014, a TransAsia ATR 72-500 flight crashed while attempting to land in the scenic Penghu archipelago between Taiwan and China, killing 48 people on board. An ATR 72-600 operated by the same Taiwanese airline crashed shortly after takeoff in Taipei in February 2015 after one of its engines failed and the second shut down, apparently by mistake.
The 2015 crash, captured in dramatic footage showing the plane hitting a taxi as it spun out of control, killed 43 and prompted authorities to temporarily ground all ATR 72s registered in Taiwan. TransAsia ceased all flights in 2016 and later went out of business.
ATR identified the aircraft 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 unreliable data”. It was previously flown by India’s Kingfisher Airlines and Thailand’s Nok Air before Yeti took over in 2019, according to data on Airfleets.net.
Yeti Airlines has a fleet of six ATR72-500 aircraft, company spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula said.
Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest, has a history of air strikes. According to the Aviation Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety Database, there have been 42 fatal plane crashes in Nepal since 1946.
Sunday’s crash is Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, when all 167 people on board a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it crashed into a hill while trying to land in Kathmandu.
The European Union has banned airlines from Nepal from flying to the 27-nation bloc since 2013, citing lax safety standards. In 2017, the International Civil Aviation Organization cited improvements in Nepal’s aviation sector, but the EU continues to demand administrative reforms.
Saaliq reported from New Delhi. Elise Morton in London, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea and Adam Schreck in Bangkok contributed reporting.