Plane crash in Nepal: the first bodies returned to families

The bodies of the victims of the plane crash in Nepal began to be returned to their families on Tuesday two days after the air disaster, the worst in the country since 1992.

The plane, a twin-engine ATR 72 from the Nepalese company Yeti Airlines which was carrying 68 passengers and four crew members, crashed into a ravine on Sunday while on approach to Pokhara airport (center).

All of the occupants of the aircraft, including 15 foreigners and six children, are presumed dead, according to the authorities.

Rescuers have worked almost tirelessly since the accident to recover the human remains among the pile of pieces of wings, fuselage and charred seats at the bottom of the ravine, 300 meters deep.

As of Tuesday morning, 70 out of 72 bodies had been found, police officer AK Chhetri told AFP.

“We recovered a body last night. But it is three pieces. We are not sure if it is three bodies or just one. This will only be confirmed after a test. DNA,” he explained.

“The search for the other two missing bodies has resumed. We have mobilized four drones today for this purpose, and we have extended the search radius to three kilometers instead of two,” he added.

A dozen bodies were transported on board an army truck from the hospital in Pokhara to the airport to be sent to the capital Kathmandu. Three were returned to their families in Pokhara, and several others were to follow Tuesday during the day.

– Bereaved families –

“God has taken back such a nice person from us,” lamented outside the Pokhara hospital Raj Dhungana, the uncle of 23-year-old passenger Sangita Shahi.

The whole family “is in mourning” after the disappearance of this “very talented” young woman, who was studying in Kathmandu while running a makeup studio and an online store, he told AFP.

The ATR 72, coming from Kathmandu, crashed shortly before 11:00 a.m. (05:15 GMT) on Sunday near the airport of Pokhara, Nepal’s second city, center of pilgrimage and important crossing point for foreign trekkers.

The cause of the accident was not yet known, but a video posted on social networks – verified by an AFP partner – showed the twin-engine vehicle veering sharply to the left as it approached the airport, and leaving hear a loud explosion.

Experts consulted by AFP were not able to judge, from this video, if the accident seemed rather due to a mechanical problem or a pilot error.

The black boxes of the device have not yet been found. Experts from the French Accident Investigation Bureau (BEA) were expected in Nepal on Tuesday, the manufacturer ATR told AFP.

Plane crash in Nepal (AFP – Simon MALFATTO)

According to the Press Trust of India (PTI), the pilot, Anju Khatiwada, had joined the Nepalese civil aviation after the death of her husband, killed in the accident of a small passenger plane in 2006.

Nepalese civil aviation, essential for supplying the remote regions of the country and transporting hikers and mountaineers there, has experienced a real boom in recent years.

But the sector suffers from serious safety problems due to deficiencies in aircraft maintenance and pilot training. The European Union has banned all Nepalese carriers from accessing its airspace for these reasons.

Families and relatives of victims of the Yeti Airlines plane crash wait outside the Pokhara hospital on January 16, 2023 in Nepal (AFP - PRAKASH MATHEMA)
Families and relatives of victims of the Yeti Airlines plane crash wait outside the Pokhara hospital on January 16, 2023 in Nepal (AFP – PRAKASH MATHEMA)

In addition, this country has some of the most isolated tracks in the world, flanked by vertiginous peaks, the approach of which constitutes a challenge even for experienced pilots.

The deadliest air disaster in Nepal’s history took place in September 1992. All 167 occupants of a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A300 perished when the plane crashed on approach to Kathmandu.

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