Kathmandu: All 14 passengers, including six foreigners, aboard a private aircraft were killed as the plane crashed near Kathmandu on Tuesday.
The flight by domestic airline Agni Air headed towards northern Nepal was carrying 11 passengers, including four American women, an Irish and a Japanese tourist, and three Nepali crew members.
Gyan Kumar Thakur, an eyewitness in Shikharpur village where the crash occurred around 7.30 a.m., said the aircraft was in flames when it crash-landed near a school, breaking into pieces and scattering bodies and belongings of the passengers.
“The site is difficult to reach due to incessant rain last night,” Thakur said.
“Villagers are guarding the bodies as rescue teams are held up by bad weather and fog. Passports and other papers were found scattered along with plane parts,” he said.
The three crew members have been identified as Captain Laxmi Prakash Vikram Shah, co-pilot Sophia Singh and air hostess Lucky Sherpa.
The Japanese was identified as Y. Hayashi while the four Americans are L. Caldoso, H. Finch, K. Fallon and I. Shekhet. The Irish tourist was identified as Jeremy.
Of the five Nepali passengers who died in the crash, three were identified as Pemba Sherpa, Ishwar Rizal and Prakash Omgai.
Police spokesperson Bigyan Raj Sharma said the aircraft was headed for Lukla in northern Nepal, considered the gateway to Mt Everest.
However, bad weather due to a raging monsoon prevented the aircraft from landing at the airport named after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, forcing it to come back towards Kathmandu.
Nepal’s official media said the pilot had reported that the engine generator had failed. On the way to the capital, the aircraft crashed in Makwanpur district, close to Kathmandu valley.
But despite the proximity to the capital, lack of motorable roads and inclement weather prevented rescue teams, including an army helicopter carrying doctors, from reaching the crash site for hours.
This is the second major air disaster in Nepal in two years. Bad weather, pilot error, difficult terrain, bad local airports and technical failures are the main causes.
Most of the crashes occur in monsoon. In 2008, a domestic airline crashed in the Everest region, killing 24 people, including 12 German tourists, a Nepali minister and his wife and noted conservationists.
The crash comes at a time when Nepal is celebrating the entry of a Nepali airline to Bhutan, the first international airline to start flights to the Buddhist kingdom.
It also clouds efforts to celebrate 2011 as a tourism year targeted to bring in 1 million tourists.