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At least 67 people died on Sunday in Nepal in the Himalayan country’s deadliest air disaster in three decades.

Authorities said 72 people – 68 passengers, including six children and all four crew members – were on board the twin-engine turboprop plane that plunged into a steep gorge, broke into several pieces and caught fire. Five of them are still missing.

This Yeti Airlines ATR72 from the Nepalese capital Kathmandu crashed just before 11:00 am (6:15 am in Switzerland) near the local airport of Pokhara, in central Nepal, where it was supposed to land.

The carcass of the burning aircraft was found at the bottom of a ravine 300 meters deep located between this old airport created in 1958 and the new international terminal opened on January 1st in this city, which is the gateway for pilgrims and hikers from all over the world. world.

At night, amid charred vegetation, soldiers were extracting corpses from the scattered wreckage of the ATR using ropes and stretchers, noted an AFP journalist.

like a bomb

“We are actively working to recover and identify the bodies as quickly as possible and hand them over to the families,” police officer AK Chhetri told AFP. A representative of local authorities had previously assured that “some survivors” had been taken to hospital, but this information was not confirmed by Yeti Airlines or other authorities.

Sudarshan Bartaula, a spokesman for the airline, told AFP that 15 foreigners were on board the plane: five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans and four Argentine passengers, respectively, from Australia, France and Ireland. The others were Nepalese.

In a press release from Toulouse in southwestern France, ATR, the device’s manufacturer, specified that it was an ATR 72-500. And to add that its experts were “fully committed to supporting both the investigation and the customer”, Yeti Airlines.

In a video shared on social media that the AFP was unable to verify, the plane is seen flying low over a residential area before suddenly turning left, all followed by a powerful explosion.

“I was walking when I heard a loud explosion, as if a bomb had exploded,” Arun Tamu, a 44-year-old witness to the scene, who was about 500 meters from the scene, told AFP. video of the burning wreckage on social media.

Air transport growth

“Some of us ran to see if we could save someone. I saw that at least two women were breathing. The fire was getting too intense and it was difficult for us to get close,” continued the former soldier. Rescuers rushed to the scene in an attempt to put out several raging fires that were belching thick black smoke.

It is the deadliest air disaster in three decades in Nepal. In 1992, 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died in an accident near Kathmandu. Two months earlier, a Thai Airways crash killed 113 people near the same airport.

Nepal’s air transport sector has grown tremendously in recent years, with aircraft transporting goods and people to hard-to-reach areas, as well as foreign hikers and climbers. But it suffered from poor pilot training and maintenance.

Isolated slopes and variable weather

The European Union has banned all Nepali carriers from accessing its airspace for security reasons. Also in Nepal are some of the most isolated and tricky trails in the world, flanked by snow-capped peaks that challenge even experienced riders to approach.

Aircraft operators say Nepal lacks the infrastructure to make accurate weather forecasts, especially in remote areas with rugged mountainous terrain where fatal accidents have occurred in the past. The weather also changes quickly in the mountains, creating even more challenging flying conditions.

In May 2022, all 22 people on board a twin-engine Twin Otter operated by the Nepalese company Tara Air – 16 Nepalese, four Indians and two Germans – died when the aircraft crashed shortly after taking off from Pokhara. Its wreckage was found a day later, on the side of a mountain at about 4,400 meters of altitude.

Following this tragedy, the authorities tightened the rules, namely that planes are only allowed to fly if the weather forecasts are favorable throughout the journey.

This article was automatically published. Sources: ats/afp

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