At least 68 killed after Nepal’s Yeti Airlines plane crashes and breaks into pieces, Latest World News - The New Paper

At least 68 killed after Nepal’s Yeti Airlines plane crashes and breaks into pieces

KATHMANDU - At least 68 people were killed on Sunday when a domestic flight crashed in Pokhara in Nepal, said a Nepal aviation authority official, in the worst air crash in three decades in the small Himalayan nation.

Hundreds of rescue workers were scouring the hillside where the Yeti Airlines flight carrying 72 people from the capital Kathmandu to Pokhara went down. The weather was clear, said Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Jagannath Niroula.

As night fell, Mr Niroula said the search for four more still missing would resume on Monday.

Local TV showed rescue workers scrambling around broken sections of the aircraft. Some parts of the ground near the crash site were scorched, with licks of flames visible.

The crash is Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, the Aviation Safety Network database showed, when a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A300 crashed into a hillside upon its approach to Kathmandu, killing all 167 people on board.

The Yeti Airlines plane in Sunday’s crash made contact with the airport in Pokhara from Seti Gorge at 5.05am GMT (1.05pm Singapore time), said the aviation authority. “Then it crashed.”

“Half of the plane is on the hillside,” said local resident Arun Tamu, adding that he reached the site minutes after the plane went down.

“The other half has fallen into the gorge of the Seti river.”

Mr Khum Bahadur Chhetri said he watched from the roof of his house as the flight approached.

“I saw the plane trembling, moving left and right, and then suddenly its nosedived and it went into the gorge,” he told Reuters, adding that local residents took two passengers to a hospital.

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

Among the 72 people on board were two infants, four crew members and 15 foreign nationals, said airline spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula.

The foreign nationals comprised five Indians, four Russians, one Irish, two South Koreans, one Australian, one French and one Argentinian, added an airport official.

Rescue teams working at the crash site of a Yeti Airlines ATR72 aircraft in Pokhara, Nepal, on Jan 15, 2023. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The plane was 15 years old, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.

The ATR 72 is a widely used twin-engine turboprop plane manufactured by a joint venture of Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo.

Yeti Airlines has a fleet of six ATR 72-500 planes, according to its website.

“ATR specialists are fully engaged to support both the investigation and the customer,” the company said on Twitter, adding that its first thoughts were for those affected, after having been informed of the accident.

Local television showed thick black smoke billowing from the crash site as rescue workers and crowds of people gathered around the wreckage of the aircraft.

Air accidents are not uncommon in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, as the weather can change suddenly and make for hazardous conditions.

Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal called an emergency Cabinet meeting following the crash, a government statement said.

The country’s air industry has boomed in recent years, carrying goods and people to 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.

Nepal 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 say the Himalayan country lacks the infrastructure for accurate weather forecasts, especially in remote areas with challenging mountainous terrain, where deadly crashes have taken place in the past.

In May 2022, all 22 people – 16 Nepalis, four Indians and two Germans – on board a plane operated by Nepali carrier Tara Air died when it crashed.

Air traffic control lost contact with the twin-propeller Twin Otter shortly after it took off from Pokhara towards Jomsom, a popular trekking destination.

Its wreckage was found a day later, strewn across a mountainside at an altitude of around 4,400m.

About 60 people were involved in the search mission, most of whom trekked uphill for miles to get there.

After that crash, the authorities tightened regulations, including allowing planes to be cleared to fly only if favourable weather was 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 the 1992 Pakistan International Airlines crash that killed all 167 people on board.

Just two months earlier, a Thai Airways aircraft had crashed near the Kathmandu airport, killing 113 people. REUTERS, AFP