Kathmandu, Feb 16: An aircraft with 18 people on board Sunday crashed in a thick jungle and burst into a huge ball of flame in Nepal, officials said. The fate of those on board was not immediately known.
The twin otter, belonging to the state-owned Nepal Airlines and carrying 15 passengers, including a foreigner, besides three crew members, crashed in Arghakhanchi district in western Nepal, said an official at the Tribhuvan International Airport here. Airport official Bimalesh Karna told IANS that due to thick fog and torrential rain, rescuers were facing difficulty in reaching the crash site.
Nepal is witnessing torrential rain since Saturday which in turn has rendered visibility poor. The ill-fated plane was heading from Pokhara, a popular tourist destination, to the mid-western Nepali town of Jumla, said Nepal Airlines spokesperson Ram Hari Sharma. The plane went missing shortly after take-off from Pokhara and its last contact was with Bhairahwa airport from where it had originally begun its flight.
Initial reports suggested that flames were seen at the crash site, enabling officials to locate the wreckage. The crash site is located in the jungle, making a rescue bid difficult in inclement weather. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said in a statement that the aircraft lost contact at 1.13 p.m. while flying from Pokhara to Jumla.
Nepal Army spokesperson Jagidesh Pokhrel confirmed that the plane had crashed and added that one army helicopter was also involved in the search operation. A politician of Jumla district belonging to the ruling Nepali Congress party, a female journalist, a bank manager, a Nepal Army major based in Jumla district and a doctor besides a Danish national were listed among the passengers.
Mahesh Moktan, chief of Nepal Airlines at Pokhara, said the aircraft was carrying 15 passengers, including a child. Moktan identified the crew members as captain Shankar Shrestha, co-pilot Rabindra Banjara and air hostess Muna Maharjan.
The plane made a stopover at the popular tourist destination of Pokhara — the kickoff point for climbing expeditions to the 8,091-metre Mt Annapurna — and was reported missing shortly after taking off from there. In 2012, there were two plane crashes in Nepal.
In September 2012, 19 people were killed. In another crash in May that year, a plane crashed, killing 15 people.