Plane with 72 people on board crashes in Nepal

An aircraft with 72 people on board crashed in Nepal on Sunday, Yeti Airlines and a local official said, in the latest aviation disaster to hit the Himalayan nation.

"There are 68 passengers on board and four crew members... Rescue is underway, we don't know right now if there are survivors," the airline's spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula told AFP.

He said the plane, which took off in Kathmandu for Pokhara, crashed between the central Nepali city's domestic airport and the international one that opened on January 1.

After the crash, rescue workers were hosing down 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.

"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.

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.

- Poor record -

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.

In May 2022, all 22 people on board a plane operated by Nepali carrier Tara Air -- 16 Nepalis, four Indians and two Germans -- died when it crashed.

Air traffic control lost contact with the twin-propeller Twin Otter shortly after it took off from Pokhara and headed for Jomsom, a popular trekking destination.

Its wreckage was found a day later, strewn across a mountainside at around 14,500 feet (4,400 metres) above sea level.

After that crash authorities tightened regulations, including that planes would only be cleared to fly only if there was favourable weather forecast throughout the route.

In March 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines plane crash-landed near Kathmandu's notoriously difficult international airport, killing 51 people.

That accident was Nepal's deadliest since 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed on approach to Kathmandu.

Just two months earlier, a Thai Airways aircraft had crashed near the same airport, killing 113 people.

str/stu/dva