Friday, September 28, 2012

Plane crash kills 19 in Nepal

The plane in flames as people watched helplessly. Images: Daily Mail

The wreckage

Victims' bodies being taken away

Kathmandu International Airport (above), a popular start point for journeys into the Everest region

Wads of notes recovered from the wreckage

A policeman looks on helplessly as the plane burns

Seven Britons were among 19 people killed when a plane carrying trekkers to the Everest region crashed in the Nepalese capital today.

The twin-engine aircraft, operated by domestic carrier Sita Air, came down minutes after take-off near the Manohara River on the southwest edge of Katmandu.

Witnesses say it burst into flames before crashing into a field just 500 yards from the airport.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it is looking 'urgently' into reports that seven Britons were killed in the disaster.

The other passengers included five Chinese and three Nepalese trekkers, while the three crew members were from Nepal, said Katmandu airport chief Narayan Bastakoti.

The pilot reported trouble shortly after leaving Kathmandu airport and appeared to have been trying to turn back, according to airport official Ratish Chandra Suman. The wrecked plane was pointing towards the airport area.

Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the crash and identify the bodies and Mr Suman said he could not confirm if the plane was already on fire before it crashed.

The weather in Kathmandu and surrounding areas was clear on Friday morning and it was one of the first flights to take off from Kathmandu's Tribhuwan International Airport. Other flights reported no problems, and the airport operated normally.

Mobile phone video shot by local people showed the front section of the plane was on fire when it first hit the ground and it appeared the pilot had attempted to land the plane on open ground beside the river.

The fire quickly spread to the rear, but the tail was still in one piece at the scene near the Manohara River on the south-west edge of Kathmandu.

Villagers were unable to approach the plane because of the flames and it took some time for firefighters to reach the area and bring the fire under control.

Hundreds of rescuers, police and onlookers surrounded the burnt-out shell of the aircraft as they looked for bodies and documents to help identify the victims.

The bodies were taken by vans to the hospital mortuary.

A police spokesman said: 'The pilots seem to have tried to land it safely on the banks of the river, but unfortunately the plane caught fire.'

Firefighters brought the fire in the wreckage under control and police rescuers were trying to pull out the bodies, Bastakoti said.

The plane was heading for Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest. Thousands of Westerners head to the region around the world's highest peak every year for trekking trips.

English mountaineer Alan Hinkes, who has been climbing in the Himalayas for more than 20 years, told the BBC that he had taken the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla many times previously, and that problems usually occurred at the Lukla end.
He said: 'It is ironic that it has crashed in Kathmandu. You are usually worried about it happening at the other end.

'The landing strip in Lukla is a bit like an aircraft carrier with a mountain at the end of it, with a 1,000ft drop at the end of the runway. Normally crashes happen at that end.'

Mr Hinkes said it was unlikely the victims would have been planning to climb Everest, but were more likely to be trekkers or people attempting other mountains in the Everest region.

He said: 'There is quite good weather in October and November for climbing the mountains around Everest.

'It is a bit worrying and upsetting. There are a lot of people and friends I know who go out at this time of year leading treks.

'It is quite alarming. I have lost a few friends in plane crashes in Nepal over the last 20 years.

'It is not the safest place to fly, I must admit, but it is what you have to do to get into the mountains.'

History repeating: The disaster comes just months after 15 people were killed when their plane crashed into a hill in northwest Nepal in May

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: 'We understand that British nationals may be involved, and we are urgently seeking to confirm what has happened.

'Our embassy in Kathmandu is talking to the airline and local authorities to find out whether Britons were involved.'

Autumn is considered the best time to trek the foothills of the Himalayan peaks.

The crash follows an avalanche on another Nepal peak Sunday that killed seven foreign climbers and a Nepali guide.

And in May, 15 people were killed when their plane crashed into a hill in northwest Nepal.

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