At least 40 people have been declared dead after a domestic flight crashed in Pokhara in Nepal on Sunday, January 15, 2023, an aviation authority official said.
Hundreds of rescue workers were scouring the hillside where the plane carrying 72 people from the capital Kathmandu, went down.
Yeti Airlines, which operated the flight, said there were 72 people onboard – 68 passengers and four crew.
According to an airport official, the foreign nationals on board included: one Australian, one 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, said. “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 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,” Dhakal said. “All agencies are now focused on first dousing the fire and rescuing the passengers.”
The twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft was 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.
The weather was clear, said Jagannath Niroula, spokesman for Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority.
Local TV showed rescue workers scrambling around broken sections of the aircraft. Some of the ground near the crash site was scorched, with licks of flames visible.
“The plane is burning,” said police official Ajay K.C., adding that rescue workers were having difficulty reaching the site in a gorge between two hills near the tourist town’s airport.
The craft made contact with the airport from Seti Gorge at 10:50 a.m. (0505 GMT), the aviation authority said in a statement. “Then it crashed.”
“Half of the plane is on the hillside,” said Arun Tamu, a local resident, who told Reuters he reached the site minutes after the plane went down. “The other half has fallen into the gorge of the Seti river.”
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 nose dived and it went into the gorge,” Chhetri told Reuters, adding that local residents took two passengers to a hospital.
The crash is Nepal’s deadliest since March 2018, when a US-Bangla Dash 8 turboprop flight from Dhaka crashed on landing in Kathmandu, killing 51 of the 71 people on board, according to Aviation Safety Network.
At least 309 people have died since 2000 in plane or helicopter crashes in Nepal, – home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest – where the weather can change suddenly and make for hazardous conditions. The European Union has banned Nepali airlines from its airspace since 2013, citing safety concerns.