KATHMANDU – At least 44 people were killed when an aircraft crashed in Nepal on Sunday, a Aviation Authority official has said – adding hundreds of rescue workers scoured the hillside smash site.
Yeti Airlines, which operated the flight, said there were 72 people on board – 68 passengers and four crew. According to an airport official, the foreign nationals on board included; one Australian, a French, one Argentinian, four Russians, five Indians, two South Koreans and one person from Ireland.
“We expect to recover more bodies,” said an army spokesperson, Krishna Bhandari,” adding: “The plane has broken into pieces.”
The plane crashed between the old and new Pokhara airports in central Nepal.
Footage shared on social media, which appeared to be shot just after the crash, showed raging flames on the ground and black smoke billowing into the sky from debris strewn across the crash site.
Another unverified clip shared online showed a plane flying at a low altitude over a residential area banking sharply to the left, followed by a loud explosion.
The wreckage was on fire and rescue workers were trying to put out the blaze, local official Gurudutta Dhakal said.
“Responders have already reached there and trying to douse the fire,” said Dhakal. “All agencies are now focused on first dousing the fire and rescuing the passengers.”
Rescuers gather at the site of the plane crash in Pokhara. Photograph: Krishna Mani Baral/AFP/Getty Images
The twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft was operated by Yeti Airlines and flying from Kathmandu, the Himalayan country’s capital, an airport official said. After news of the crash broke the country’s prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, called an emergency cabinet meeting.
Pokhara’s international airport, which opened on January 1 is meant to gradually replace the old one, established in 1958. The city in central Nepal is a gateway to religious pilgrims and international trekkers.
Nepal’s air industry has boomed in recent years, carrying goods and people between 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.
The Himalayan country 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 Nepal lacks infrastructure for accurate weather forecasts, especially in remote areas with challenging mountainous terrain where deadly crashes have taken place in the past.
The weather can also change quickly in the mountains, creating treacherous flying conditions.