Pokhara bound flight crashes in Nepal

32 bodies recovered so far but rescue hampered by spectators

Photo: RSS

A Yeti Airlines ATR72 aircraft from Kathmandu to Pokhara on Sunday morning crashed near its destination. The plane had 68 passengers on board and four cabin crew led by senior captain Kamal KC. 

Six of the passengers are children, 15 foreigners, of which five are Indians, and 53 Nepali nationals, including eight members of a single family.

The 72-seater took off at 10:30AM from Kathmandu before it crashed into the Seti gorge between the old airport and the Pokhara International Airport in Ward 15 near Sitaram Bridge. The plane was engulfed in fire immediately after.

An eyewitness video showed the nose-up plane seemingly in a stall, banking in a steep dive before crashing.

According to rescuers, 32 bodies have been recovered so far. But onlookers say it is unlikely anyone survived the crash given the accident site being in a deep narrow gorge. Nepal Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police teams had not been able to douse the fire even 2 hours after the crash.

A crowd of spectators at the crash taking photos and videos with mobile phones have made the rescue more difficult and added to traffic in the area.

This is a rare instance where a plane on a trunk route crashed during a good weather. The plane was landing at Pokhara's new international airport that was only inaugurated on 1 January 2023. 

One aviation expert who did not want to be named, told Nepali Times: "It is too early to pinpoint the cause of the crash, but from the eyewitness video the plane appears to be in a nose-up altitude prior to a stall."

The expert said what needs to be determined is what caused the stall: either a bird strike, mechanical issue, or a steep nose-up that bled air speed at low altitude.

One of the reasons the inauguration of the new airport was delayed was because Pokhara's landfill site, which is located in the Seti River near the runway, posed birdstrike danger to landing aircraft.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane who had visited Kathmandu airport's control room for the details are going to Pokhara on Sunday itself.

Dahal had previously called an emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers while Lamichhane has directed authorities for immediate rescue and relief.

Nepal is one of the most challenging countries in the world for aviation because of treacherous terrain and weather. It has seen 67 fatal air crashes in the last 60 years. The most recent accident was the May 2022 Tara Air flight from Pokhara to Jomsom crash killing 22 passengers.

But the nature of Saturday's tragedy would make it a crash with the highest number of casualties on a domestic flight in Nepal's aviation history. See: 60 years of Nepal's aviation history.

Most aviation accidents in Nepal between 1952-2022 were caused by planes flying into mountains hidden in clouds, known as Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT). But this was in broad daylight, in good weather, near a new airport with modern navigation facilities.