Thousands stranded due to Nepal airport closure after plane skidded off runway

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Kathmandu's international airport was closed for a second straight day Thursday, leaving thousands stranded at the start of the tourist season, after a plane skidded off its only runway.

The Indian Air Force flew in experts and equipment to help Nepal remove the Turkish Airlines A330, which had to be evacuated after it skidded off the runway with 224 passengers on board early Wednesday.

All the passengers and crew were unhurt.

"The Indian Air Force plane carrying equipment to clear the runway has landed in Kathmandu," said the chairman of Nepal's civil aviation authority Ratish Chandra Lal Suman.

Scores of passengers including Nepalese migrant workers and foreign tourists gathered at Kathmandu airport for updates on at least 80 international flights scheduled to arrive and depart Thursday.

Lita dela Cruz, a tourist from the Philippines, said she was desperate to make the flight that would take her back to London where she works.

"It's a huge problem for me, my employer is expecting me back tonight and I can't see how I will reach (there) on time," she told AFP.

Nepalese migrant worker, Rajman Lodh, said he worried about losing his job in Saudi Arabia if the airport failed to resume operations soon.

"I have already spent 100,000 rupees (S$1,375) to get the job and organise my passport and travel, now if my flight is delayed for longer, I may not even be able to start work," Lodh, 34, told AFP.

Nepalese officials said they would launch an investigation into the accident, which damaged the aircraft's landing gear and front engines and dislodged its tyres.

The Himalayan nation is home to some of the world's most remote and tricky runways, flanked by snow-capped peaks and terrain that poses a challenge even for accomplished pilots.

A string of crashes as well as the European Union's decision to blacklist all Nepalese airlines prompted government officials last year to announce plans to install new radar and weather monitoring systems.

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