A tourist town in Nepal witnessed a deadly plane crash, when an aircraft on a 27-minute flight, while trying to land at a recently inaugurated airport, crashed into a gorge on Sunday. The accident resulted in the death of at least 68 out of the 72 passengers on board. Some reports suggest that cries for help were heard from the burning wreckage, making it the most fatal air crash in Nepal in the past 30 years.
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As the night fell, many spectators gathered around the site of the accident, near the Pokhara airport, as rescue teams searched through the debris on the cliff’s edge and in the valley below. The search for the remaining 4 missing passengers was halted for the night and set to continue the following day.
Bishnu Tiwari, a local resident who quickly went to the accident site near the Seti River to assist in the recovery of bodies, said that thick smoke and an intense fire hindered the rescue operations.
“The flames were so hot that we couldn’t go near the wreckage. I heard a man crying for help, but because of the flames and smoke we couldn’t help him,” Tiwari said.
The Nepal Civil Aviation Authority stated that the cause of the incident was not immediately known. A person who observed the accident, said he saw the plane twisting wildly in the sky as it started to land and he was watching it from his terrace. Gaurav Gurung added that the aircraft ultimately plunged downwards towards its left and smashed into the gorge.
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The aviation Authority has reported that the last communication with the airport was made by the aircraft near Seti Gorge at 10:50 am before it crashed.
The twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft, run by Yeti Airlines of Nepal, was en route from Kathmandu to Pokhara, which is located 200 km (125 miles) west. The Nepal Civil Aviation Authority stated in a statement that the flight carried 68 passengers, 15 of whom were foreign nationals, and 4 crew members. The passengers included 5 Indians, 4 Russians, 2 South Koreans, 1 each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France.
Visuals shared on Twitter depicted smoke rising from the crash site, about 1.6 km (nearly a mile) away from Pokhara International Airport. The wreckage was found to be scattered down the gorge, with the body of the aircraft broken into multiple pieces.
Firefighters retrieved bodies, some of which were severely burnt, and transported them to hospitals where mourning loved ones had congregated. At the Kathmandu airport, family members were visibly distressed as they were led inside and sometimes argued with officials as they sought information.
Tek Bahadur K. C., an administrative officer in the Kaski district, stated that he anticipates rescue teams will discover more bodies at the bottom of the gorge.
In light of the crash, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal immediately went to the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu and established a commission to examine the accident.
”The incident was tragic. The full force of the Nepali army, police has been deployed for rescue,” he said.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry released a statement stating that they are still trying to verify the status of two South Korean passengers and have dispatched personnel to the site. The Russian Ambassador to Nepal, Alexei Novikov, confirmed the passing of four Russian citizens who were on board the flight.
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Omar Gutiérrez, governor of Neuquen province in Argentina, announced on his official Twitter account that one of the Argentine passengers on the flight was Jannet Palavecino from his province.
Palavecino’s Facebook page states that she was the manager of the Hotel Suizo in Neuquen city.
On the page, she described herself as a lover of travel, and of adventure tourism. “I am passionate about the mountains! Riding my bike in cycling. I love my garden and the countryside. I like to paint!” she wrote.
On Palavecino’s account, there are several images of her in the mountains.
Pokhara is known as the entry point to the Annapurna Circuit, a well-liked hiking trail in the Himalayas. The city’s new international airport had only started operating two weeks prior to the incident.
The ATR 72, the type of plane that was involved in the accident, is frequently utilized by airlines globally for short regional flights. This aircraft model was jointly developed by French and Italian partnership in the late 1980s and has been involved in several fatal accidents over the years.
In Taiwan, two previous incidents involving ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 aircrafts occurred months apart.
In July 2014, a TransAsia flight using an ATR 72-500 aircraft crashed while attempting to land on the Penghu archipelago, which is located between Taiwan and China, resulting in 48 fatalities. In February 2015, an ATR 72-600 operated by the same Taiwanese airline, TransAsia, crashed shortly after takeoff in Taipei. The cause of the accident was the failure of one engine and the shutting down of the second engine, which was believed to be an error.
The 2015 crash, which was caught on camera, showing the plane striking a taxi as it loses control, resulted in 43 deaths and prompted authorities to temporarily ground all ATR 72s registered in Taiwan. TransAsia ceased all flights in 2016 and later went out of business.
ATR confirmed through a tweet that the aircraft involved in the Sunday’s crash was an ATR 72-500. Flight tracking data from flightradar24.com reported that the plane was 15 years old and had an “old transponder with unreliable data.” It was previously operated by India’s Kingfisher Airlines and Thailand’s Nok Air before Yeti Airlines acquired it in 2019, as per the records on Airfleets.net.
As per the company spokesperson Sudarshan Bartaula, Yeti Airlines operates a fleet of six ATR72-500 planes.
Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest, has a history of air crashes. According to the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety database, there have been 42 fatal plane crashes in Nepal since 1946.
Sunday’s crash is the most severe air accident in Nepal since 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it hit a hill while trying to land in Kathmandu.
Since 2013, the European Union has prohibited airlines from Nepal from flying into the 27-nation bloc due to inadequate safety measures. Despite the International Civil Aviation Organization noting advancements in Nepal’s aviation sector in 2017, the EU still calls for administrative changes.