At least 44 people have been killed in Nepal’s worst plane crash in five years

Kathmandu, Jan. 15 (Reuters) – At least 44 people died on Sunday when a domestic plane crashed in Nepal’s Pokhara, a civil aviation authority official said.

Hundreds of rescuers searched the hill where the Eti Airlines plane carrying 72 people from the capital Kathmandu crashed. The weather was clear, said Jagannath Nirola, a spokesman for Nepal’s civil aviation authority.

“Thirty bodies have been found and sent to the hospital,” Nirola told Reuters. Another 14 bodies lie at the crash site and authorities deployed a crane to move them.

Local television showed rescuers climbing around the plane’s wreckage. Part of the ground near the accident site was burnt and the flames were visible.

“The plane is on fire,” police officer Ajay KC said as rescuers struggled to reach the site in a valley between two hills near the tourist town’s airport.

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The plane made contact with the airport at 10:50 a.m. (0505 GMT) from Seti Gorge, the civil aviation authority said in a statement. “And then it crashed.”

“Half of the plane is on the hill,” said local resident Arun Thamu, who told Reuters he reached the site minutes after the plane crashed. “The other half fell in the valley of the river Seti.”

Khum Bahadur Chhetri said he saw the plane approaching from the roof of his house.

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

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

A series of accidents

It was Nepal’s worst accident since March 2018, when a US-Bangla Dash 8 turboprop plane from Dhaka crashed on landing in Kathmandu, killing 51 of 71 people on board, the Aviation Safety Network said.

At least 309 people have died in plane or helicopter crashes in Nepal since 2000 – eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest – and sudden changes in weather can create dangerous conditions.

The European Union has banned Nepalese flights from its airspace since 2013 due to security concerns.

Two infants and four crew members were among those aboard the twin-engine ATR 72, airline spokesman Sudarshan Bardaula said.

The passengers included five Indians, four Russians and one Irishman, two South Koreans, one Australian, one Frenchman and one Argentinean.

The ATR72 from the European aircraft manufacturer ATR is a widespread twin-engine turboprop aircraft produced by a joint venture with Airbus. (AIR.PA) and Leonardo of Italy. Eti Airlines has six ATR72-500 aircraft, according to its website.

“ATR Experts is fully committed to supporting both the investigation and the customer,” the company said on Twitter, adding that its first thoughts were with the victims after being notified of the accident.

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

Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 tweeted that the Eti Airlines plane was 15 years old and was equipped with an old transponder with unreliable data.

“We download high-resolution data and check the quality of the data,” it said.

On its website, Eti describes itself as a leading domestic airline. The fleet consists of six ATR 72-500s, including the one that crashed. It also owns Tara Air, and the two together provide a “broad network” in Nepal, the company says.

Report by Gopal Sharma; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed; Written by Devajyot Ghoshal and Aditya Kalra; Edit: William Mallard

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