18 killed in Nepal plane crash (Second Lead)

October 8th, 2008 - 1:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Oct 8 (IANS) A small plane carrying 19 people Wednesday crashed in Nepal’s remote mountainous north, killing all but the pilot and turning the celebration of the country’s biggest festival Dashain into mourning.The 18 victims included 12 Germans, two Australians and four Nepalis.

Co-pilot Bikash Pant and cabin attendant Sunita Shrestha were killed in the early morning crash while pilot Surendra Kunwar was the lone survivor.

Mohan Adhikari, general manager at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, said the 9N-AFE Twin Otter belonging to private Nepali airline Yeti Airlines crashed while attempting to land at Lukla in Solukhumbu district, regarded as the gateway to Mt Everest and other Himalayan ranges.

The aircraft took off from Kathmandu at 6.51 a.m. and was going to land at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport, one of the most difficult airports in the world, at 7.30 a.m. when the weather deteriorated, causing the pilot to overshoot the narrow runway.

Eyewitnesses said the plane burst into flames immediately.

Nepal’s civil aviation authorities were initially hesitant to announce that 18 of the passengers were already dead. They said a helicopter had been rushed to the remote airport to launch rescue operations.

The pilot was flown to the capital for treatment where he was declared to be “miraculously” out of danger.

The nature of the accident has made the identification of the mangled and burnt bodies difficult, eyewitnesses said.

Till late morning, only the identities of the two other Nepali passengers had been made public. They were identified as S. Adhikari and G. Sharma. The tourists were returning from a trekking expedition.

This is the first aviation disaster suffered by Nepal’s one-month-old Maoist government. Adhikari said the government would form a commission to probe the accident.

All flights to and from Lukla were suspended. The Everest skydiving programme was also put on hold.

Yeti Airlines, a leading domestic flight operator, had tied up with Air Arabia this year to form FlyYeti, a low-cost international airline.

Nepal has a long history of air disasters, mostly caused by bad weather and human error.

In March, 10 UN staffers were killed when the helicopter ferrying them to the capital from a Maoist army cantonment crashed in Ramechhap district east of Kathmandu.

In October 2006, the world was shocked by a crash in eastern Nepal in which 24 people were killed, including Nepal’s leading conservationists, WWF officials and a Nepali minister and his wife.

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