Plane crash in Nepal: at least 14 bodies found

KATHMANDU, Nepal – Rescuers recovered 21 bodies Monday after a day of efforts to reach the site of a plane crash high in the rocky Himal...


KATHMANDU, Nepal – Rescuers recovered 21 bodies Monday after a day of efforts to reach the site of a plane crash high in the rocky Himalayas, Nepal officials said.

The Canadian-made De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, operated by Tara Air and carrying 19 passengers and three crew, took off Sunday morning from the central Nepalese city of Pokhara and was heading for Jomsom, a popular tourist destination with hikers.

The flight normally lasts around 30 minutes, but the aircraft fell in bad weather with 13 Nepalese, four Hindu pilgrims from India and two German trekkers on board. Officials said they did not expect to find any survivors.

“We recovered 21 dead bodies,” said Netra Prasad Sharma, the chief district administrator in Mustang, where the accident happened. “One more is missing.

Mr Sharma said rescue operations were halted in the late afternoon due to bad weather.

Earlier on Monday rain and fog made it difficult for rescuers to get to the site. Helicopters deployed on Sunday by the Nepalese army and private companies were diverted to Kathmandu, the capital, and Pokhara due to poor visibility.

After conditions improved on Monday morning, a helicopter carrying a senior army official, a police inspector and a guide reached the scene at an altitude of 14,500ft near the village of Thasang. A total of 15 rescuers had arrived at the scene by noon, authorities said.

“No one is alive,” said Narendra Shahi, an international mountain guide, who was sent to the crash site as part of the rescue operation. “The plane crashed into pieces. It’s so heartbreaking.

Bishnu Kumar KC, a Nepalese police spokesman, said the bodies would be collected and taken to Pokhara or Kathmandu.

One of the bodies found on Monday was that of Utsav Pokharel, a 25-year-old pilot on the flight. “He always wanted to be a pilot,” said his father, Maniram Pokharel, breaking down in tears. “He left us too soon.

Mr Pokharel was the first person from his remote village in Rukum district to become a pilot, family members said, after learning to fly in the Philippines.

The family was so proud of him that they also enrolled Mr. Pokharel’s younger brother, Umesh, in a pilot training program in the Philippines.

“He only has three months left to complete his course,” said Mr. Pokharel, their father. “I don’t understand if I should ask him to be a pilot or ask him to leave.”

Nepali officials said on Monday the cause of the crash was not immediately clear. The most likely possibility, they said, was that the plane crashed into a mountain after losing contact with air traffic controllers while navigating in poor weather.

“At first the weather was good,” said Puskal Sharma, the Jomsom airport manager, but it quickly “worsened just as we were asking the Tara Air plane for the final position.” Then we immediately lost connection.

Mr Sharma said two small planes landed successfully at Jomsom airport early on Sunday morning.

Jomsom is a favorite of hikers due to its breathtaking snow-capped mountains. Hindu pilgrims from India, Nepal and other countries also visit the region to pray at Muktinath Temple. For many, a trip there is meant to offer a path to paradise. Among the most famous visitors was Prime Minister Narendra Modi of Indiawho visited the temple in 2018.

To reach remote mountainous places like Jomsom, locals and visitors alike rely on small twin-engine aircraft. The route from Pokhara to Jomsom is considered one of the riskiest in Nepal as planes have to fly through narrow valleys, where visibility is often a challenge. Accidents are more frequent than usual due to frequent bad weather, rocky terrain and aging aircraft fleets.

In 2016, 23 people were killed when a Tara Air plane crashed on the same route as on Sunday. In 2018, a a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed in Kathmandu, killing 49 of the 71 people on board. In response to the poor safety record of Nepalese airlines, the European Union has banned planes from entering its airspace.

The Nepali crew members of the Tara Air flight that crashed on Sunday were Captain Prabhakar Prasad Ghimire, Mr Pokharel and Kishmi Thapa, a flight attendant, Tara Air said.

At least seven of the Nepalese passengers belonged to the same family, making a pilgrimage to the Muktinath temple, according to Nepali media reports. The four pilgrims from India were a family from the western state of Maharashtra, according to Indian media reports.

Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, and Karan Deep Sing from New Delhi.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Plane crash in Nepal: at least 14 bodies found
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