At least 67 people were confirmed dead Sunday when a plane with 72 on board crashed in Nepal, police said, in the Himalayan country’s deadliest aviation disaster in three decades.
“Thirty-one (bodies) have been taken to hospitals,” police official AK Chhetri told AFP, adding that 36 other bodies were still in the 300-metre (600-foot) gorge the aircraft plunged into.
This was partially confirmed by the army, with a spokesman saying 29 bodies had been retrieved and that there were 33 more at the site in Pokhara in central Nepal.
“The aircraft crashed into a gorge so it is difficult to bring the bodies Search and rescue is ongoing. No survivors have been found yet,” army spokesman Krishna Prasad Bhandari told AFP.
One local official said that some survivors had been taken to hospital — but this was not confirmed by either the airline Yeti Airlines or others.
Yeti spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula told AFP that among those on board — 68 passengers and four crew — were 15 foreigners including five Indians, four Russians and two Koreans. The rest were Nepalis.
The flight from Kathmandu slammed into the gorge and smashed to pieces between Pokhara’s domestic and brand new international airport on Sunday shortly before 11:00 am (0515 GMT).
After the crash, rescue workers were hosing down parts of the wreckage of the ATR 72 twin-engine turboprop while smoke drifted out of a ravine as hundreds of people watched.
The area was strewn with what appeared to be parts of the aircraft, including seats.
Footage shared on social media, which appeared to be shot just after the crash, showed raging flames on the ground and black smoke billowing into the sky from debris strewn across the crash site.
AFP was unable to immediately verify the footage.
Another unverified clip shared online showed a plane flying at a low altitude over a residential area banking sharply to the left, followed by a loud explosion.
Pokhara’s international airport, which opened on January 1 is meant to gradually replace the old one, established in 1958. The city is a gateway to religious pilgrims and international trekkers.
– Poor record –
Nepal’s air industry has boomed in recent years, carrying goods and people between hard-to-reach areas as well as foreign trekkers and climbers.
But it has been plagued by poor safety due to insufficient training and maintenance.
The European Union has banned all Nepali carriers from its airspace over safety concerns.
The Himalayan country also has some of the world’s most remote and tricky runways, flanked by snow-capped peaks with approaches that pose a challenge even for accomplished pilots.
Aircraft operators have said Nepal lacks infrastructure for accurate weather forecasts, especially in remote areas with challenging mountainous terrain where deadly crashes have taken place in the past.
The weather can also change quickly in the mountains, creating treacherous flying conditions.
In May 2022, all 22 people on board a plane operated by Nepali carrier Tara Air — 16 Nepalis, four Indians and two Germans — died when it crashed.
Air traffic control lost contact with the twin-propeller Twin Otter shortly after it took off from Pokhara and headed for Jomsom, a popular trekking destination.
Its wreckage was found a day later, strewn across a mountainside at around 14,500 feet (4,400 metres) above sea level.
After that crash authorities tightened regulations, including that planes would only be cleared to fly only if there was favourable weather forecast throughout the route.
In March 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines plane crash-landed near Kathmandu’s notoriously difficult international airport, killing 51 people.
That accident was Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed on approach to Kathmandu.
Just two months earlier, a Thai Airways aircraft had crashed near the same airport, killing 113 people.