accidents

NEWS 68 dead, 4 missing as plane crashes in Nepal resort

68 dead, 4 missing as plane crashes in Nepal resort

POKHARA, Nepal (AP) — At least 68 of the 72 people on board were killed when a plane bound for the tourist town of Nepal plunged into a canyon Sunday as it tried to land at a newly opened airport 27 minutes into the flight. . At least one witness reported hearing cries for help from the burning wreckage in the country’s deadliest plane crash in 30 years.

Hours after dark, dozens of onlookers gathered around the crash site near the airport in the resort town of Pokhara as rescuers cleared debris from the edge of the cliff and in the canyon below. Officials suspended the search for the four missing persons overnight and planned to continue the search on Monday.

Bishnu Tiwari, a local resident who rushed to the crash site near the Seti River to help search for bodies, said rescue efforts were hampered by thick smoke and raging fires.

“The flames were so hot we couldn’t get close to the wreckage. I heard a man calling for help but we couldn’t help him because of the flames and smoke,” Tiwari said.

The Nepal Civil Aviation Authority said the cause of the accident was not yet known.

An eyewitness said he watched the plane spin violently through the air as it began to descend and touch down from the patio of his home. In the end, Gaurav Gurung said, the plane went nose-first to the left and crashed into a canyon.

Aviation authorities said the plane last made contact with the airport at 10.50am from near Seti Gorge before it crashed.

The twin-engine ATR 72, operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines, flew from the capital, Kathmandu, to Pokhara, 200 kilometers (125 miles) west. The Nepal Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement that there were 68 passengers on board, including 15 foreigners and four crew members. The foreigners included five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France.

Pictures and videos shared on Twitter showed smoke billowing from the crash site, about 1.6 kilometers (nearly a mile) from Pokhara International Airport. The plane’s fuselage was broken into sections and scattered in the canyon.

Firefighters transported the bodies, some burned beyond recognition, to hospitals where distraught relatives gathered. At the Kathmandu airport, the family appeared distraught as they were escorted into the airport and sparred with officials at times as they waited for news.

Kaski District Senior Administrative Officer Tek Bahadur KC said he expected rescuers to find more bodies at the bottom of the canyon.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who was traveling to Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport after the accident, formed a team to investigate the accident.

“The incident is tragic. The Nepalese army and police are fully engaged in the rescue,” he said.

In a statement, South Korea’s foreign ministry said it was still working to confirm the fate of the two South Korean passengers and had sent staff to the scene. The Russian ambassador to Nepal, Alexei Novikov, confirmed the death of the four Russian citizens on board.

The governor of Argentina’s Neuquén province, Omar Gutierrez, said on his official Twitter account that one of the Argentine passengers on the plane was Janet Paravicino from the province.

Palavecino’s Facebook page says she is the manager of the Suizo Hotel in Neuquen.

On the page, she describes herself as a lover of travel and adventure travel. “I’m passionate about mountains! Cycling and biking. I love my garden and the country. I love drawing!” she wrote.

There are many photos of her in the mountains on her account.

Pokhara is the gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular hiking trail in the Himalayas. The city’s new international airport only started operating two weeks ago.

The aircraft type involved, an ATR 72, has been used by airlines around the world for short-haul regional flights. Launched by a French-Italian partnership in the late 1980s, the model aircraft has been involved in several fatal accidents over the years.

In Taiwan, two earlier accidents involving ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 aircraft occurred only a few months apart.

In July 2014, a TransAsia Airways ATR 72-500 crashed while attempting to land in the scenic Penghu Islands between Taiwan and China, killing 48 people on board.The ATR 72-600, operated by the same Taiwanese airline, crashed shortly after takeoff from Taipei In February 2015, one of the engines failed and the second apparently shut down by mistake.

The 2015 crash, captured in dramatic footage showing the plane slamming into a taxi as it lost control, killed 43 people and prompted authorities to ground all Taiwan-registered ATR 72s for a period. TransAsia ceased all flights in 2016 and subsequently went out of business.

ATR identified the aircraft involved in Sunday’s crash as the ATR 72-500 in a tweet. According to flightradar24.com aircraft tracking data, the plane was 15 years old and “equipped with an old transponder with unreliable data”. Before Yeti took over in 2019, it was operated by India’s Kingfisher Airlines and Thailand’s Nok Air, according to records on Airfleets.net.

Yeti Airlines has a fleet of six ATR72-500 aircraft, said company spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula.

Nepal is home to eight of the world’s 14 tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, which has a history of air crashes. Since 1946, there have been 42 fatal plane crashes in Nepal, according to the Flight Safety Foundation’s aviation safety database.

Sunday’s crash was Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, when a Pakistan International Airlines plane plunged into a mountain while trying to land in Kathmandu, killing all 167 people on board.

Since 2013, the European Union has banned Nepal Airlines from flying to the 27-nation bloc, citing weak safety standards. In 2017, the International Civil Aviation Organization said Nepal’s aviation industry had improved, but the EU continued to demand administrative reforms.

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This story corrects the surname of Omar Gutierrez, governor of the province of Neuquen in Argentina,

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Saaliq reported from New Delhi. Elise Morton in London, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Adam Schreck in Bangkok contributed to the report.

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