Nepal pledges probe as plane crash kills all 22 on board (Lead)

December 16th, 2010 - 3:06 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Dec 16 (IANS) As search helicopters confirmed that all 22 people on board a small aircraft missing since Wednesday had perished in a dense forest in eastern Nepal, the government said it would initiate an inquiry to ascertain the nationality of the passengers, now believed to be mostly Bhutanese pilgrims.A Twin Otter flown by domestic airline Tara Air went missing minutes after taking off from Lamidanda airport in eastern Nepal’s mountainous Khotang district Wednesday afternoon, carrying 19 people, who were initially thought to have been pilgrims from Nepal.

The aircraft was heading towards Kathmandu around 3 p.m. when it crashed in Gouri forest in nearby Okhaldhunga district.

Flown by Nepali pilot Anup Shakya, the three-member cabin crew included co-pilot Sachindra Shrestha and air hostess Sadiksha Gurung.

Shrestha was said to have been engaged to a fellow co-pilot Sophiya Singh, who was killed in another domestic aircrash in the Everest region in northern Nepal in August.

While the bodies of the cabin crew had been retrieved and flown to Kathmandu’s Teaching Hospital for postmortem examination Thursday, police said it would take time to collect the scattered and mangled bodies of the passengers and bring them to the capital.

The crash is said to have occurred at an altitude of nearly 9,000 ft.

There was confusion over the identity of the 19 passengers on board, with media reports claiming that 18 of them were actually Bhutanese pilgrims. They were said to have falsely given their nationality as Nepalis in order to escape having to pay the higher fares prescibed for foreigners.

Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley had contacted his Nepali counterpart, Madhav Kumar Nepal, to ascertain the truth of the reports.

The 19th passenger, a male named Kelsang Choedak, was said to be a Tibetan carrying an American passport.

The pilgrims, though mostly Buddhists, were returning from a celebrated Shiva temple in eastern Nepal.

Sharad Singh Bhandari, Nepal’s Tourism and Aviation Minister, Thursday said the government was ordering a probe into the identity of the dead passengers.

This is the second major crash this year.

In August, another small place carrying mostly foreign tourists, crashed near the Everest region, killing all 14 people on board.

Bad weather, difficult terrain and technical disasters have contributed to make domestic flying in Nepal unpredictable.

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