Hope to find Nepal plane crash survivors fades, 20 bodies found

In Nepal, hopes were fading on Monday of finding survivors among the 22 people aboard a small plane that crashed into a Himalayan mountain a day earlier, officials said, with just two people left yet to be taken into account.

Two Germans, four Indians and 16 Nepalese were on board the De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter plane which crashed 15 minutes after taking off from the tourist town of Pokhara, 125 kilometers west from Kathmandu on Sunday morning.

“There is very little chance of finding survivors,” said Deo Chandra Lal Karna, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.

Nepalese soldiers and rescue workers had recovered 20 bodies from the wreckage, strewn down a steep slope at an altitude of about 4,419 meters (14,500 feet).

A general view of the crash site can be seen in this photo taken on Monday. (Fishtail Air Captain Nikalas Fjellgren/Reuters)

The difficult terrain and bad weather had hampered the search teams. An image published in Nepalese media showed uniformed rescuers pulling a body from the wreckage and using ropes to carry it on a stretcher up a steep, grassy ridge.

“There is a very thick cloud in the area,” Netra Prasad Sharma, the top official in the district of Mustang, where the crash happened, told Reuters by phone. “The search for bodies continues.

Co-pilot, 25, among the victims

In Kathmandu, relatives of the victims waited for the bodies to be brought back from the crash site, and the aviation authority said in a tweet that official identification of the victims had yet to take place.

“I’m waiting for my son’s body,” Maniram Pokhrel told Reuters, his voice muffled. His son Utsav Pokhrel, 25, was the co-pilot.

Operated by private company Tara Air, the plane crashed in cloudy weather on Sunday morning and the wreckage was not spotted until Monday morning by the Nepalese military.

The plane was going to the tourist site

The destination was Jomsom, a popular tourist and pilgrimage site located about 80 kilometers northwest of Pokhara – usually a 20-minute flight.

But the plane lost contact with the Pokhara control tower five minutes before landing, airline officials said.

The crash site is close to Nepal’s border with China, in the region of Mount Dhaulagiri, the world’s seventh highest peak at 8,167 meters (26,795 feet).

Flight tracking website Flightradar24 said the plane, registered 9N-AET, first flew 43 years ago.

Air accidents are not uncommon in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 tallest mountains, including Everest, as the weather can change suddenly, making airstrips in the mountains dangerous.

In early 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines flight from Dhaka to Kathmandu crashed on landing and burst into flames, killing 51 of the 71 people on board.