x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Mount Everest sightseeing flight crashes, killing 19

Buddha Air Beechcraft plane, carrying 16 passengers and three crew came down in heavy rain and fog at Godavari, about 10 kilometres from Kathmandu, smashing into wooded slopes.

Rescue workers and civilians gather around the wreckage of a Beechcraft 1900D operated by Buddha Air after it crashed in the mountains outside Bisankunarayan village, just south of Kathmandu, Nepal, early yesterday. Niranjan Shrestha / AP Photo
Rescue workers and civilians gather around the wreckage of a Beechcraft 1900D operated by Buddha Air after it crashed in the mountains outside Bisankunarayan village, just south of Kathmandu, Nepal, early yesterday. Niranjan Shrestha / AP Photo

KATHMANDU // A small plane taking tourists on a sightseeing trip around Mount Everest crashed into a hillside near Kathmandu yesterday, killing all 19 people on board.

The Buddha Air Beechcraft plane, carrying 10 Indians, two Americans, one Japanese citizen and three local passengers, came down in heavy rain and fog at Godavari, about 10 kilometres from Kathmandu.

The three Nepalese crew also died as the plane smashed into wooded slopes, leaving the fuselage broken into several pieces.

Bimlesh Lal Karna, head of the rescue department at Tribhuwan International Airport, told AFP" "All 19 people have died. The Buddha Air-103 was returning from a mountain flight when it crashed into Kotdada Hill."

Police spokesman Binod Singh said one person initially survived died in hospital. "The rescue efforts have been hampered by heavy rain," he added.

Airport authorities lost contact with the plane at 7.30am and it crashed minutes later.

Dip Shamsher Rana, a police officer who took part in the rescue, said: "When we reached the crash site, we found the dead bodies scattered within 25 metres of the site which is surrounded by trees.

"The nearest road is 50 metres away. There were mangled remains of the aircraft which was broken into several pieces."

Witnesses told local television stations that the plane burst into flames on impact.

"The plane was flying very low. We were surprised. It crashed into the hill and there was a huge explosion," one man told the Avenues Television news channel.

Investigators scouring the site found the black box flight recorder several hours after the crash, and police said an investigation was under way to establish the cause of the accident.

Buddha Air, a private airline based in Kathmandu, was not immediately available for comment.

The company offers an 8,240 rupee (Dh514) "Everest Experience" package, taking tourists from Kathmandu and flying them around the world's tallest mountain and surrounding peaks.

The Buddha Air website describes the Beechcraft as the "safest plane operating in the domestic sector".

It adds that early morning flights are scheduled to take advantage of better weather conditions before winds blow up snow plumes that can obscure the view.

The one-hour flights are popular among tourists, and several companies offer daily trips.

Aviation accidents are relatively common in Nepal, particularly during the summer monsoon when visibility is often poor.

Last December, a Twin Otter plane carrying three crew and 19 passengers smashed into a mountainside shortly after taking off from a small airstrip 140 kilometres east of Kathmandu.

The passengers were mostly Bhutanese citizens on a religious tour of Nepal and had chartered the Tara Air plane to take them to a Buddhist holy site in the area.

Last November, a helicopter crashed near Mount Everest during a mission to rescue two stranded climbers, killing the pilot and an engineer.

Three months earlier, a plane headed for the Everest region crashed in bad weather killing 14 people on board, including four Americans, a Japanese and a British national.

Nepal has a limited road network and many communities in the mountains and hills are accessible only on foot or by air.