Death toll rises to 68 as plane with 72 people on board crashes in Nepal

At least 68 people died after an aircraft with 72 people on board crashed near Pokhara International Airport in Nepal on Sunday morning.

The Yeti Airline twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft with 68 passengers and four crew members departed from Kathmandu and met with an accident while landing.

The passengers included two infants and several foreign nationals, according to airline spokesperson Sudarshan Bartaula.

Reuters, quoting Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority official, reported later in the day that the death toll from the crash has increased to 68.

The aircraft crashed between the old airport and the Pokhara International Airport, the airline spokesperson told Kathmandu Post.

The aircraft made contact with the airport at 10.50am local time, Jagannath Niroula, spokesman for Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement. “Then it crashed.”

A five-member panel has been set up to investigate the cause of the crash.

The federal government has declared one-day national mourning on Monday.

“Procedure to identify the victims is underway,” Dr Bharat Bahadur Khatri, Director of Pokhara Academy of Health Sciences told Kathmandu Post at around 4.15pm local time on Sunday.

Crowds gather as rescue teams work to retrieve bodies at the crash site (via REUTERS)
Crowds gather as rescue teams work to retrieve bodies at the crash site (via REUTERS)

The crash is Nepal’s deadliest since 1992 when a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A300 crashed into a hillside upon approach to Kathmandu, killing all 167 people on board, according to Aviation Safety Network.

Purported videos and images shared on social media show plumes of smoke billowing from the crash site.

“We expect to recover more bodies,” army spokesperson Krishna Bhandari earlier told Reuters. “The plane has broken into pieces.”

Crowds gather as rescue teams work to retrieve bodies at the crash site (REUTERS)
Crowds gather as rescue teams work to retrieve bodies at the crash site (REUTERS)

According to the Civil Aviation Authority, there were 53 Nepalis, five Indians, four Russians, one Irish, two South Koreans, one Australian, one French and one Argentinian national on board.

The airport has been temporarily shut and a rescue operation is underway.

Meanwhile, Yeti Airlines said later in the day that it has cancelled all regular flights for 16 January after the crash.

Read more: Passenger aviation worldwide has become extraordinarily safe, but Nepal is the tragic outlier

Prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who rushed to the site of the crash, earlier urged security personnel, all agencies of the Nepal government and the general public to start an effective rescue. He also called for an emergency meeting of the council of ministers.

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“Half of the plane is on the hillside,” Arun Tamu, a local resident was quoted as saying by Reuters. Mr Tamu reached the site of the crash minutes after the plane went down. “The other half has fallen into the gorge of the Seti river.”

The plane was reportedly 15 years old. The ATR72 is a widely used turboprop plane manufactured by a joint venture of Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo.

The tourist town of Pokhara is located about 200km northwest of the capital Kathmandu.

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Twenty-two people died in May last year after a small plane operated by Tara Air – a subsidiary of Yeti Airlines – crashed in a mountainous region after taking off from Pokhara.

Nepal has a poor aviation safety record, blamed partly on an ageing fleet of aircraft but also on its unique topography. The country is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest, and experiences unpredictable cloud cover and visibility as a result.

A screen grab taken from a video shows a view of Pokhara airport where Yeti Airlines plane carrying 72 people crashed (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A screen grab taken from a video shows a view of Pokhara airport where Yeti Airlines plane carrying 72 people crashed (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines crash at the Tribhuvan International Airport killed 51 people on board.

Two years prior to that a Tara Air Twin Otter plane flying the same route had crashed, killing all 23 aboard.