23 dead in plane crash in mountainous Nepal

A family member in tears as he waited at the airport after a Tara Air plane crashed in bad weather in Pokhara, Nepal, yesterday. The cause of the crash was not known. A statement on Tara Air's website said weather conditions were good when the plane
A family member in tears as he waited at the airport after a Tara Air plane crashed in bad weather in Pokhara, Nepal, yesterday. The cause of the crash was not known. A statement on Tara Air's website said weather conditions were good when the plane took off for Jomsom, a trekking destination in the Himalayas.PHOTO: REUTERS

Bodies found around wreckage, impossible to identify them immediately, says minister

KATHMANDU • Rescue teams in Nepal yesterday found the burnt-out wreckage of a passenger plane that went missing in a remote mountainous area with 23 people on board, the country's second air disaster in as many years.

"The wreckage of the plane was found in a completely burnt state in Solighopte in Myagdi district," said Minister for Culture, Tourism and Aviation Aananda Prasad Pokharel. He added that bodies could be seen scattered around the wreckage and that it was not possible to identify anyone immediately.

Twenty passengers, including two infants, and three crew members were on board flight TA 193. The dead also included two foreigners - a Chinese national and a Kuwaiti.

The Tara Air Viking 9N-AHH Twin Otter aircraft took off from the tourist town of Pokhara at 7.50am and was headed to Jomsom town in Mustang district. But air traffic control lost contact with the plane eight minutes into the flight. The wreckage was located at 1.25pm.

The army deployed helicopters and foot soldiers in Myagdi, a mountainous district around 220km west of Kathmandu, after reports of sightings of possible wreckage of the Tara Air plane.

The cause of the crash was not known. A statement on Tara Air's website said weather conditions were good when the plane took off for Jomsom, a popular trekking destination in the Himalayas about 20 minutes' flight from Pokhara.

"The weather at both origin and destination airports was favourable and the airport cleared for departure by the control tower at Pokhara," Tara Air said.

Aviation expert Kunda Dixit said the area around the crash was prone to very strong winds.

"Most flights in the area fly before 9.30am because very strong winds pick up after that," he said. "It is very strange because it is a brand-new plane and the weather was clear in the morning. The pilot is very experienced and focused on safety, I flew with him only 10 days ago."

Tara Air is a subsidiary of Yeti Airlines, a privately owned domestic carrier founded in 1998 which services many remote destinations across Nepal. It suffered its last fatal accident in 2010 when a plane chartered by a group of Bhutanese tourists crashed into a mountainside in eastern Nepal.

Air travel is popular in Nepal, which has a limited road network. Many communities, particularly in the mountains and hills, are accessible only on foot or by air. A similar aircraft to the one that went down yesterday crashed in west Nepal in 2014, killing 18 people.

The country, which is still reeling from a devastating earthquake last April, has in recent years suffered a number of air disasters, and in 2013, the European Union blacklisted all of Nepal's airlines. Most air disasters have been attributed to inexperienced pilots, poor management and inadequate maintenance.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2016, with the headline '23 die in plane crash in mountainous Nepal'. Print Edition | Subscribe