KATHMANDU, Nepal ( Associated Press) – Rescue teams zeroed in on the probable location of a passenger plane carrying 22 people on board, which is expected to remain cloudy in Nepal’s mountains on Sunday, officials said.
The Tara Air plane was on a 20-minute scheduled flight from the resort town of Pokhara, the hill town of Jomsom, 200 kilometers (125 mi) east of Kathmandu. The turboprop Twin Otter aircraft lost contact with the airport tower, which was about to land in a deep river valley and mountain range.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said in a statement that an army helicopter and private helicopters were taking part in the search.
Army spokesman Narayan Silwal said on Twitter that army personnel and rescue teams were headed to the crash site, believed to be around Lete village in Mustang district.
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But the search was stopped till Monday morning due to bad weather and night, Silwal said.
“Poor visibility due to bad weather is hampering the efforts. The plane is yet to be traced,” he said. Silwal said rescuers were trying to reach the area where locals had reportedly seen the fire, though it was still not clear what was burning. He said officials can verify the information only when soldiers reach the spot.
Tara Air spokesperson Sudarshan Bartaula said rescue teams have narrowed down the possible location of the plane.
According to flightradar24.com’s plane tracking data, the 43-year-old took off from Pokhara at 9:55 am (04:10 GMT) and broadcast its last signal at 10:07 am (04:22 GMT). Altitude of 12,825 feet (3,900 m).
There were six foreigners on board the plane, including four Indians and two Germans, according to a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Bartaula said there were 19 passengers and three crew members on board the plane.
It has been raining in the area for the past few days but flights are operating normally. On that route, planes fly between mountains before landing in a valley.
It is a popular route for foreign climbers who trek the mountain trails and also with Indian and Nepalese pilgrims who visit the revered Muktinath Temple.
Nepal has a spotty air safety record.
In 2016, a Star Air Twin Otter flying on the same route crashed after takeoff, killing all 23 people on board. In 2012, an Agni Air plane going from Pokhara to Jomsom also crashed, killing 15 people. Six people survived. In 2014, a Nepal Airlines plane going from Pokhara to Jumla crashed, killing all 18 people on board.
In 2018, a US-Bangla passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed while landing in Kathmandu, killing 49 of the 71 people on board.
The Twin Otter is a rugged aircraft originally built by Canadian aircraft manufacturer de Havilland. It has been in service by smaller airlines and other operators around the world for more than half a century.
The aircraft, with its top-mounted wing and fixed landing gear, is prized for its durability and ability to take off and land on short runways.
Production of the planes basically ended in the 1980s. Another Canadian company, Viking Air, brought the model back into production in 2010.