Kathmandu: At least 68 people were killed when a Nepalese passenger plane with 72 people onboard, including five Indians, crashed into a river gorge while landing at the newly-opened airport in central Nepal’s resort city of Pokhara on Sunday in the Himalayan nation’s deadliest aviation accident in over 30 years.
Yeti Airlines’ 9N-ANC ATR-72 aircraft took off from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport at 10:33 am and crashed on the bank of the Seti River between the old airport and the new airport minutes before landing, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN).
A total of 68 passengers and four crew members were on board the aircraft. The flight time between Kathmandu and Pokhara is 25 minutes.
“So far, dead bodies of 68 people have been recovered from the crash site,” an official at the Search and Rescue Coordination Committee of the CAAN told PTI over the phone. Bodies of those who died have been retrieved and taken to Gandaki Hospital for postmortem, an official from the district administration office, Kaski, said. Most of the bodies were damaged so much so that they are beyond identification, the official added.
Efforts to recover four more people will resume on Monday, the spokesman of the Nepal Army said.
The 15 foreign nationals onboard the plane included five Indians, four Russians, two Koreans, an Australian, a French, an Argentine and an Israeli.
The five Indians, reportedly from Uttar Pradesh, were identified as Abhisekh Kushwaha, 25, Bishal Sharma, 22, Anil Kumar Rajbhar, 27, Sonu Jaiswal, 35, and Sanjaya Jaiswal.
Of the five Indians, four were planning to participate in paragliding activities in the tourist hub of Pokhara, a local resident who travelled with them to Nepal, said.
Among the five Indian nationals, four had just arrived in Kathmandu from India on Friday.
“All the four were planning to enjoy paragliding in the lake city and tourist hub Pokhara,” recalled Ajay Kumar Shah, a resident of Sarlahi district in southern Nepal.
“We came together from India in the same vehicle,” he added.
“They stayed in Gaushala near Pashupatinath Temple and then in Hotel Discovery of Thamel, before departing to Pokhara,” he said.
They were planning to return to India from Pokhara via Gorakhpur, he added.
Sonu, the eldest among the Indian nationals, was a resident of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
The Indian embassy is in touch with local authorities and is monitoring the situation, the mission said while expressing its heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.
“Deeply grieved on hearing about the air crash in Pokhara, Nepal. Our thoughts are with the affected families,” India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tweeted and shared the helpline numbers of the Indian Embassy.
Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 claimed that the Yeti Airlines aircraft was 15 years old and equipped with an ‘old transponder with unreliable data’.
There is no information about any survivor so far, said Sudarshan Bartaula, spokesperson at Yeti Airlines.
“The weather in Pokhara was absolutely fine and the engine of the aircraft was also in good condition,” he said.
“We don’t know what has happened to the airplane,” he said.
However, some local media reported that the aircraft took a wider turn while attempting to land, which may have caused the accident. It was a new airport built under a Chinese soft loan and inaugurated just two weeks ago.
According to Tek Bahadur KC, Chief District Officer of the Kaski district, the plane crashed into the Seti river gorge.
Among the passengers were three infants, three children and 25 women.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ held an emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers following the crash.
The emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers has decided a public holiday on January 16 to mourn the victims of the Yeti Airlines plane crash.
Prachanda has expressed sadness over the crash and directed the Home Ministry, security personnel and all the government agencies to carry out immediate rescue and relief operations.
He cancelled a visit to the accident site to avoid causing disturbance in the rescue efforts.
The government has formed a five-member probe committee under Nagendra Ghimire, former secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, to investigate the accident.
The government has also directed that every domestic airline’s aircraft undergo rigorous inspections before taking a flight.
Following the Yeti Airlines aircraft crash, the Pokhara International Airport has been closed for today for all incoming and outgoing flights.
Images and videos posted on social media platforms showed plumes of smoke billowing from the crash site.
Shortly after the crash, police reached and started a rescue operation.
However, the police said that it was not possible to deploy enough manpower. Police said that bringing the fire under control was difficult as the fire engine could not reach the gorge where the crash took place. As a result, the fire is yet to be brought under control.
Gyan Bahadur Khadka, police spokesman, Kaski, said that there was a problem in the rescue due to the difficult terrain.
After the aircraft crashed in the center of Pokhara, a crowd gathered around the accident site.
Spokesman Khadka said that this has hampered the rescue process. He said, “There is a crowd of thousands. Due to the crowd, there has been a problem in the rescue as even the ambulance and fire brigade has been hindered.”
Nepal has had a fraught record of aviation accidents, partly due to its sudden weather changes and airstrips located in hard-to-access rocky terrains.
Sunday’s incident was the third-deadliest crash in the Himalayan nation’s history, according to data from the Aviation Safety Network.
The only incidents in which more people were killed took place in July and September 1992. Those crashes involved aircraft of Thai Airways and Pakistan International Airlines and left 113 and 167 people dead, respectively.
The last major air accident in Nepal happened on May 29 when all 22 people onboard, including four members of an Indian family, were killed as a Tara Air plane crashed in Nepal’s mountainous Mustang district.
In 2016, all 23 people aboard were killed when a plane of the same airline flying the same route crashed after takeoff.
In March 2018, a US-Bangla Air crash occurred at the Tribhuvan International Airport, killing 51 people on board.
A Sita Air flight crashed in September 2012 while making an emergency landing at the Tribhuvan International Airport, killing 19 people.
A plane flying from Pokhara to Jomsom crashed near Jomsom airport on May 14, 2012, killing 15 people.