At least 23 killed in Nepal bus crash: officials

KATHMANDU (AFP) - A crowded bus skidded off a hilly road in far-western Nepal on Monday, killing at least 23 people and injuring 40 others, while heavy rain hampered rescue efforts, officials said.

The passenger bus, packed with people travelling during the country's busy holiday season to celebrate the Hindu festival of Dashain, was headed south from the district of Doti when the accident occurred, a local official said.

"The accident happened late this afternoon. So far, 23 bodies have been recovered," said Gobinda Bahadur Karki, an official based in Doti.

A district police officer said the bus plunged more than 200 metres (656 feet) down the hill in Chhatiwan village.

"We have rescued 40 people so far, but the rescue operation is facing difficulty because of rain," the officer, who declined to give his name, said.

Officials said they were attempting to retrieve a passenger list for the vehicle, but the busy holiday season usually sees drivers pick up travellers along the route, without necessarily registering them.

In January last year, 29 people were killed in the same village in Doti district when the driver lost control of a passenger bus in foggy weather, causing it to plunge some 600 metres down a steep slope.

Accidents are relatively common on Nepal's highways because of poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving, and death tolls running into double figures are common.