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Nepal plane crash leaves dozens dead

January 15, 2023

Hundreds of rescue workers were scouring the wreckage site following the crash near Pokhara International Airport. Nepal has been plagued by air travel safety issues for years.

Locals watch the wreckage of a passenger plane as rescuers are scouring the crash site
Hundreds of people observe the wreckage site near PokharaImage: Krishna Mani Baral/AP Photo/picture alliance

An aircraft carrying 72 people on board crashed in the city of Pokhara in central Nepal, Yeti Airlines said on Sunday.

At least 68 people were killed in the crash, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, but the exact death toll remains unclear.

"There are 68 passengers on board and four crew members ... Rescue is underway, we don't know right now if there are survivors," a spokesperson for the airline told the AFP news agency.

Two infants and 15 foreign nationals were among those on board, Nepal's Civil Aviation Authority said, including five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina, and France.

A local official said that rescue workers arrived quickly on the scene and that the wreckage was on fire.

"Responders have already reached there and trying to douse the fire. All agencies are now focused on first dousing the fire and rescuing the passengers," said local official Gurudutta Dhakal.

The aircraft went down in a gorge near the Seti River, nearly 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) away from Pokhara International Airport. The aircraft last made contact at 10:50 a.m. local time (0505 GMT) close to the crash site.

Hundreds join rescue efforts

The plane — a 15-year-old a twin-engine ATR72 according to FlightRadar24 — was headed from Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, to the newly opened airport at the resort town of Pokhara, popular with tourists, said Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

The flight was meant to be a short one, of about 30 minutes. Dahlal also urged security forces and the general public to aid with rescue work.

People stand together outside a hospital in Pokhara, awaiting further information about victims of the plane crash
People stand together outside a hospital in Pokhara, as they wait for more information about the victims of the plane crashImage: Yunish Gurung/AP Photo/picture alliance

Hundreds of rescue workers were seen searching near the wreckage site. Parts of the aircraft were hanging over the gorge and rescuers were using ropes to pull out bodies.

State television showed images of black smoke rising from the crash site with people gathered around the wreckage. It also reported that a number of bodies had been found. 

Nepal's air travel challenges

Nepal is notoriously dangerous for air travel for several reasons. The mountainous country, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains, hosts some of the trickiest runways with routes heading to remote locations that would challenge the most experienced pilots.

The country also lacks advanced weather forecasting infrastructure, made even more complicated by the tendency of the weather to change rapidly, especially up in the mountains.

Black plumes of smoke billow up from the crash site
The crash site in a gorge has been hard for rescue workers to accessImage: picture alliance/AA/Stringer

The Himalayan country's air industry is also beset by lagging safety standards and maintenance issues despite a recent boom in air travel.

The European Union has banned Nepalese carriers from its air space over safety concerns.

Crash sites are also often difficult to get to, as was the case when a plane carrying 22 people crashed into a mountainside at 14,500 feet (4,400 meters) in May last year.

ab/wmr (AFP, Reuters, AP)