Plane with 72 people on board crashes in Nepal

A plane with 72 people on board crashed in Nepal on Sunday, a local official and a Yeti Airlines spokesman said, adding that they did not know “if there are any survivors”.

“There are 68 passengers on board and four crew members … help is on the way, we do not currently know if there are any survivors,” Sudarshan Bartaula told AFP.

The plane crashed between the old and new Pokhara airport in central Nepal.

The cabin was on fire and rescuers were trying to put out the blaze, local official Gurudutta Dhakal said.

“Rescue services have already arrived on site and are trying to put out the fire,” added Gurudutta Dhakal, adding that they were “focused first on extinguishing the fire and rescuing the passengers”.

Nepal’s airline industry has boomed in recent years, ferrying goods and people to hard-to-reach areas, as well as trekkers and foreign mountaineers.

But it suffered from a lack of safety due to insufficient training and maintenance.

The European Union has banned all Nepalese carriers from accessing its airspace for security reasons.

The Himalayan country also has some of the most remote and tricky tracks in the world, flanked by snow-capped peaks that challenge even seasoned pilots to approach.

Rescue teams at the site of a plane crash on January 15, 2023 in Pokhara, Nepal (AFP – Krishna Mani BARAL)

Aircraft operators say Nepal lacks the infrastructure to make accurate weather forecasts, especially in remote areas with rugged mountainous terrain, where fatal accidents have occurred in the past.

The weather also changes rapidly in the mountains, creating even more challenging flying conditions.

In May 2022, all 22 people on board a plane operated by the Nepalese company Tara Air – 16 Nepalese, four Indians and two Germans – died when the plane crashed.

Air traffic control had lost contact with the twin-propeller aircraft shortly after it took off from Pokhara heading for Jomsom, a popular trekking destination. Its wreckage was found a day later, on the side of a mountain at an altitude of about 4,400 meters.

Around 60 people had taken part in the search mission, most of them having walked for miles to get there.

After this crash, the authorities tightened the regulations, in particular so that the planes are only allowed to fly if the weather forecast is favorable throughout the journey.

Nepal (AFP/Archives - )
Nepal (AFP/Archives – )

In March 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines plane crashed near the notoriously difficult to access Kathmandu International Airport, killing 51 people.

The accident was the deadliest in Nepal since 1992, when all 167 people on board a Pakistan International Airlines plane died in a crash approaching Kathmandu.

Two months earlier, a Thai Airways plane crashed near the same airport, killing 113 people.

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