Kathmandu: At least 68 people were killed on Sunday when a domestic flight crashed in Pokhara in Nepal, the country's Civil Aviation Authority said, in the worst air crash in three decades in the small Himalayan nation.
Hundreds of rescue workers were scouring the hillside where the Yeti Airlines flight, carrying 72 people from the capital Kathmandu, went down.
The plane made contact with the airport from Seti Gorge at 10:50 a.m. (0505 GMT), the aviation authority said in its statement. "Then it crashed." Police official Ajay K.C. said rescue workers were having difficulty reaching the site in a gorge between two hills near the tourist town's airport.
At the crash site, rescuers used ropes to pull out bodies from the wreckage, parts of which were hanging over the edge of the gorge. Some bodies, burned beyond recognition, were carried by firefighters to hospitals, where grief-stricken relatives had assembled.
The twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft, operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines, was flying from the capital, Kathmandu, to Pokhara, a 27-minute flight. It was carrying 68 passengers including 15 foreign nationals, as well as four crew members, Nepal's Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement.
The foreigners included five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France.
Tek Bahadur K. C., a senior administrative officer in the Kaski district, said he expected rescue workers to find more bodies at the bottom of the gorge.
One local official said that some survivors had been taken to hospital - but this was not confirmed by either the airline Yeti Airlines or others.
Yeti spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula told AFP that among those on board - 68 passengers and four crew - were 15 foreigners including five Indians, four Russians and two Koreans. The rest were Nepalis.
The flight from Kathmandu slammed into the gorge and smashed to pieces between Pokhara's domestic and brand new international airport on Sunday shortly before 11:00 am (0515 GMT).
After the crash, rescue workers were hosing down parts of the wreckage of the ATR 72 twin-engine turboprop while smoke drifted out of a ravine as hundreds of people watched.
The area was strewn with what appeared to be parts of the aircraft, including seats.
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.
AFP was unable to immediately verify the footage.
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.
Pokhara's international airport, which opened on January 1 is meant to gradually replace the old one, established in 1958. The city is a gateway to religious pilgrims and international trekkers.
Nepal's air industry
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 have said 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.
JAN 15, 2023: A twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft carrying 72 people, operated by Nepal's Yeti Airlines, crashed in Pokhara.
MAY 29, 2022: Sixteen Nepalis, four Indians and two Germans died on a De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter aircraft that crashed 15 minutes after taking off from Pokhara, 125 km (80 miles) west of Kathmandu, on a Sunday morning.
FEB. 27, 2019: A helicopter crashed in bad weather in eastern Nepal, killing all seven people on board, including the tourism minister.
MARCH 12, 2018: Fifty-one of 71 people on a Bangladeshi airliner died when it crashed in cloudy weather as it came in to land at the Nepalese capital's hill-ringed airport.
FEB. 26, 2016: Two people were feared dead after a small plane crashed in western Nepal's Kalikot district.
FEB. 24, 2016: A small plane crashed in bad weather, killing all 23 people on board. The Twin Otter aircraft, operated by private Tara Air, was on a flight from Pokhara.
FEB. 16, 2014: All 18 people on a small plane that crashed in bad weather were killed.
SEPT. 28, 2012: A small plane struck a bird and crashed shortly after takeoff from Kathmandu, killing 19 people, including seven British and five Chinese passengers.
SEPT. 25, 2011: A small plane carrying foreign tourists to view Mount Everest crashed in bad weather near Kathmandu, killing all 19 people on board.
DEC. 16, 2010: A small plane crashed in the Himalayan foothills of remote east Nepal, killing all 22 people onboard.
AUG. 24, 2010: Fourteen people - including four Americans, a Japanese and British national - were killed when their small plane crashed in bad weather in Nepal.
OCT. 8, 2008: A small private plane crashed in the remote mountains of northeast Nepal, killing at least 18 people, mostly foreigners.
MARCH 4, 2008: Four U.N. arms monitors were among at least 10 people killed in a helicopter crash in Nepal.
JUNE 21, 2006: A Twin Otter passenger plane belonging to a private Nepali airline crashed minutes before landing in the west of the country, killing all nine people onboard.
MAY 25, 2004: A small cargo plane crashed in the Mount Everest region, killing its three crew.
AUG 22, 2002: A plane carrying foreign tourists slammed into a mountain in bad weather in Nepal, killing all 18 people on board.
JULY 27, 2000: A Twin Otter passenger plane crashed in western Nepal on Thursday, killing all 25 people on board.