World, Asia - Pacific

‘Nepal’s plane turned into smoke, flames minutes before landing’

More than 800 killed in around 104 air crashes in Nepal since 1955 as search going on for last 1 missing passenger in Sunday’s deadliest crash

Riyaz ul Khaliq  | 17.01.2023 - Update : 17.01.2023
‘Nepal’s plane turned into smoke, flames minutes before landing’ Flight number YT 691: A file photo of ATR 72-500 series Yeti Airlines plane at Pokhara International Airport.


Airlines staff in Pokhara was preparing to receive 68 passengers from the capital Kathmandu this Sunday, but their wait ended in Nepal's deadliest air crash in 30 years.

"(The airline's staff in Pokhara) saw the aircraft coming and approaching (the airport) … after 10-15 seconds, they only saw smoke and flames," Sudarshan Bartaula, spokesperson for Yeti Airlines, told Anadolu from Kathmandu.

The ATR 72-500 series plane with flight number YT 691 was flying to a central new airport in Pokhara city from the capital Kathmandu when it crashed on Sunday morning.

The plane took off from Kathmandu at around 10:32 a.m. Nepal time (0447GMT).

The plane was carrying 68 passengers and four crew members, which included a 44-year-old female airlines captain, Anju Khatiwada, and instructor, Captain Kamal KC.

 Airlines Instructor Captain Kamal KC

At least one body is still missing after the crash in the landlocked Himalayan nation, which resulted in the death of all onboard passengers and crew members.

"Till now, we have found 71 bodies, one is still missing, search and rescue going on," Jaganatha Niraula, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), told Anadolu over the phone from the country's capital Kathmandu.

Niraula said various teams of the CAAN, Nepalese army, police, armed police force, central and local governments, besides medical personnel and the common public, are involved in search, rescue and relief operations.

According to Bartaula, the airline's spokesperson, it was around 11:03 a.m. Nepal time (0518 GMT) that the airline staff in Kathmandu got information about the crash.

"It takes 25 minutes (for a flight) from Kathmandu to reach Pokhara," Bartaula said.

The plane has a capacity of 72 passengers besides the crew.

The victims include three infants and three children.

Search and rescue teams found no survivors and recovered 71 bodies until Tuesday.

Worst air traffic region

Nestled in the lap of the giant Himalayas, Nepal has one of the world's toughest terrains and is counted among one of the worst air traffic regions.

Niraula, the CAAN spokesman, revealed to Anadolu that Nepal has recorded around 104 air crashes since 1955, when the first air accident happened, "resulting in the death of four people."

"In total, more than 800 people died until now," he added.

The search teams also recovered the black boxes, which were handed over to the five-member investigation committee tasked to submit a report within 45 days.

The black box is a crucial device that helps determine the cause of the crash and contains the flight radar record and cockpit voice recorder.

 Airlines Captain Anju Khatiwada

"There are many reasons for plane crashes, (and) it takes time to understand the actual reason. But as far as we can see, the plane fell due to imbalance," airport officials told Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who had arrived at the Tribhuvan International Airport after the incident, according to local media.

During the briefing, it was said the pilot took the plane to the gorge to protect the settlement. "The plane did not crash in the settlement, it went down in the gorge," the officials said in the briefing.

"The exact reason will be revealed after the investigation."

Bartaula, speaking to Anadolu from TU Teaching Hospital Kathmandu, where 48 dead bodies from the crash site had been brought, said: "We are still shocked (about) what had happened ... we also don't know the cause … Investigation committee is already working and we shall wait (for) the report."

"There was no terrain issue. Weather was fair (with) no wind, nor was there any (air) traffic ... and the aircraft was in good condition ... it is a surprise for me," Bartaula said. "This aircraft had done its first flight on the same route."

He said the deceased female pilot Khatiwada joined the airline in June 2010 and had flown aircraft for more than 6,396 hours in her career. Her husband, Dipak Pokharel, a pilot himself, died in a crash in 2006.

A small Twin Otter plane, belonging to the same Yeti Airlines, had crashed in the Jumla mountain region and Pokharel was a co-pilot, said Bartaula.

Last year, 22 people were killed when a private plane operated by Nepal's Tara Air crashed shortly after taking off from Pokhara.

The CAAN spokesman said the results of previous air crash probes had "found main three reasons" for the accidents.

"First is that an accident can be caused by weather conditions, technical issues could be the second, while the human error was found to be the third reason," Niraula said.

"We can't say anything about the (cause of the Sunday) accident yet," he said, and added whether the black box will be sent outside of the country for forensic examination "is a prerogative of the investigation committee."

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