Nepal mourns victims of worst air disaster in decades

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Nepalis are observing a day of mourning for victims of the country’s worst air disaster for some three decades.

At least 68 people died when a flight from Kathmandu to the tourist town of Pokhara crashed on landing and caught fire on Sunday morning.

Mobile phone footage showed the Yeti Airlines flight rolling sharply as it approached the airport.

It is unclear what caused the crash, but Nepal has a tragic history of fatal airline accidents.

A search and rescue operation that involved hundreds of Nepalese soldiers was suspended overnight due to darkness but is due to resume on Monday morning.

Earlier, local TV reports showed rescuers scrambling around charred sections of the aircraft which hit the ground in the gorge of the Seti River, just over a kilometre from the airport.

Most of the 72 passengers and crew died, but there were unconfirmed reports that several people had survived, although critically injured.

The prime minister of Nepal declared Monday a national day of mourning, and the government set up a panel to investigate the cause of the disaster.

Rescue teams working near the wreckage at the crash site of a Yeti Airlines ATR72 aircraft in Pokhara, central Nepal, on 15 January 2023

EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Local resident Divya Dhakal told the BBC how she rushed to the crash site after seeing the aircraft plunge from the sky shortly after 11:00am local time (05:15 GMT).

“By the time I was there the crash site was already crowded. There was huge smoke coming from the flames of the plane. And then helicopters came over in no time,” she said.

“The pilot tried his best to not hit civilisation or any home,” she added. “There was a small space right beside the Seti River and the flight hit the ground in that small space.”

Aviation accidents are not uncommon in Nepal, often due to its remote runways and sudden weather changes that can make for hazardous conditions.

This Himalayan nation, home to some of the most breath-taking mountains in the world, has some of the most difficult terrain to navigate.

A lack of investment in new aircraft and poor regulation have also been blamed in the past.

In May 2022 a Tara Air plane crashed in northern Nepal, killing 22 people. Four years earlier 51 people were killed when a flight travelling from Bangladesh caught fire as it landed in Kathmandu.

The European Union has banned Nepalese airlines from its airspace over concerns about training and maintenance standards.

The Yeti Airlines flight from Kathmandu to the tourist town of Pokhara left the Nepalese capital just after 10:30 (04:45 GMT) for what should have been a short trip.

It had 68 passengers on board, including at least 15 foreign nationals, and four crew members.

Of the passengers, 53 were said to be Nepalese. There were five Indian, four Russians and two Koreans on the plane. There was also one passenger each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France among others.

Khum Bahadur Chhetri, a local resident, told Reuters that he was observing the flight from the roof of his home as it approached the airport.

“I saw the plane trembling, moving left and right, and then suddenly it nosedived and it went into the gorge,” Chhetri said.

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