It happened as the aircraft was landing at a newly-opened airport in the resort town of Pokhara
Authorities in Nepal said 68 people have been confirmed dead after a regional passenger plane with 72 on board crashed into a gorge while landing at a newly-opened airport in the resort town of Pokhara.
It is the country’s deadliest aviation accident in three decades.
Scores of rescue workers and onlookers crowded near the steep gorge as rescuers combed the wreckage on the edge of the cliff and in the ravine below.
Local resident Bishnu Tiwari, who rushed to the crash site to help search with the search, said rescue efforts were hampered because of thick smoke and a raging fire that engulfed the aircraft.
“The flames were so hot that we couldn’t go near the wreckage,” he said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the accident.
A witness said he saw the aircraft spinning violently in the air after it began to attempt a landing. Gaurav Gurung said the plane fell nose-first towards its left and then crashed into the gorge.
At the crash site near the Seti River, nearly a mile from Pokhara International Airport, rescuers sprayed fire hoses and heaved ropes down to another smouldering part of the wreck below. At Kathmandu airport, where the flight began, family members appeared distraught as they were escorted inside.
“The plane caught fire after the crash. There was smoke everywhere,” Mr Gurung said.
The aviation authority said the plane last made contact with the airport from near Seti Gorge at 10.50am local time.
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 said.
The foreigners included five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France.
Tek Bahadur KC, a senior administrative officer in the 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 billowing from the crash site as rescue workers, Nepali soldiers, and crowds of people gathered around the wreckage of the aircraft to find survivors.
The aircraft’s fuselage was split into multiple parts which were scattered down the gorge.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who rushed to the airport after the crash, set up a panel to investigate the accident.
”The incident 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 two South Korean passengers and has sent staff to the scene.
The type of plane involved has been used by several airlines around the world for short regional flights.
Introduced in the late 1980s by a French and Italian partnership, the model has been involved in several fatal accidents over the years.
In 2018, an ATR 72 operated by Iran’s Aseman Airlines crashed in a foggy, mountainous region, killing all 65 on board.
ATR identified the plane involved in Sunday’s crash as an ATR 72-500 in a tweet.
According to plane 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 it over in 2019, according to records on Airfleets.net.
Yeti Airlines has a fleet of six ATR72-500 planes, company spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula said.
Pokhara, located 125 miles (200km) west of Kathmandu, is the gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular hiking trail in the Himalayas.
Pokhara International Airport began operations only two weeks ago. It was built with Chinese construction and financial support.
The Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Chen Song, said in a tweet that he was “very shocked” to learn of the accident.
“At this difficult time, our thoughts are with Nepali people. I would like to express my deep condolences to the victims, and sincere sympathies to the bereaved families,” he wrote.
Sunday’s crash is Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, when all 167 people on board a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it ploughed into a hill as it tried to land in Kathmandu.
Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest, has a history of air crashes.
According to the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety database, there have been 42 fatal plane crashes in the country since 1946.
Last year, 22 people died when a plane crashed on a mountainside in Nepal.
In 2016, a Tara Air Twin Otter flying from Pokhara to Kathmandu crashed after take-off, 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 Nepal Airlines plane flying from Pokhara to Jumla crashed, killing all 18 on board.
In 1992, all 167 people on board a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it ploughed into a hill as it tried to land in Kathmandu.
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