An aircraft carrying 72 people on board crashed in the city of Pokhara in central Nepal, Yeti Airlines said on Sunday.
At least 30 people were killed in the crash, according to officials, but the exact death toll remains unclear.
“There are 68 passengers on board and four crew members… Rescue is underway, we don’t know right now if there are survivors,” a spokesperson for the airline told AFP news agency.
Two infants and 15 foreign nationals were among those on board, Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said, including five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina, and France.
A local official said that rescue workers arrived quickly on the scene and that the wreckage was on fire.
“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,” local official Gurudutta Dhakal said
It went down near the Seti River, nearly 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) away from Pokhara International Airport
Hundreds join rescue efforts
The plane — a 15-year-old a twin-engine ATR72 according to FlightRadar24 — was headed from Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, to the resort town of Pokhara, popular with tourists, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said. The aircraft went down near the Seti River, nearly 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) away from Pokhara International Airport.
Dahal also urged security forces and the general public to aid with rescue work. Hundreds of rescue workers were seen searching near the wreckage site.
State television showed images of black smoke rising from the crash site with people gathered around the wreckage. It also reported that a number of bodies had been found.
Nepal’s air travel challenges
Nepal is notoriously dangerous for air travel for several reasons. The mountainous country, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, hosts some of the trickiest runways with routes heading to remote locations that would challenge the most experienced pilots.
The country also lacks advanced weather forecasting infrastructure, made even more complicated by the tendency of the weather to change rapidly, especially up in the mountains.
The Himalayan country’s air industry is also beset by lagging safety standards and maintenance issues despite a recent boom in air travel.
The European Union has banned Nepalese carriers from its air space over safety concerns.
Crash sites are also often difficult to get to, as was the case when a plane carrying 22 people crashed into a mountainside at 14,500 feet (4,400 meters) in May last year.
ab/wmr (AFP, Reuters, AP)