A plane crash killed at least 68 people after it went down while trying to land in the city of Pokhara on Sunday, officials said.
In a news release, Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said the aircraft last made contact with the airport from near Seti Gorge at 10:50 a.m. before crashing. The twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft, operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines, was flying from the capital, Kathmandu, to Pokhara, a 27-minute flight.
It was carrying 68 passengers including 15 foreign nationals, as well as four crew members, Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement. The foreigners included five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina, and France.
Data from flight tracking website Flightradar24 shows the 15-year-old twin-engine ATR 72 stopped transmitting its position at around 05:05 UTC (12 a.m. ET) on Sunday and sent its last signal minutes later at 05:12 UTC. The plane departed at 04:47 UTC, it said.
“The rescue operation is still in progress,” the Nepalese aviation authority stated. No survivors have been found yet, and no Americans were on board the aircraft.
Following the incident, a rescue team and helicopters were deployed to “immediately” try to find survivors in a “prompt rescue operation,” the Civil Authority said. “We expect to recover more bodies,” a Nepal army spokesman told Reuters before saying that the aircraft “has broken into pieces.”
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who rushed to the airport after the crash, set up a panel to investigate the accident. On Twitter, Dahal said he was “deeply saddened by the sad and tragic accident.”
“I sincerely appeal to the security personnel, all agencies of the Nepal government, and the general public to start an effective rescue,” he wrote.
Local resident Divya Dhakal told the BBC that she saw the plane plunge to the ground and crash at around 11 a.m. local time.
“By the time I was there the crash site was already crowded. There was huge smoke coming from the flames of the plane. And then helicopters came over in no time,” she said. “The pilot tried his best to not hit civilisation or any home,” Dhakal added. “There was a small space right beside the Seti River and the flight hit the ground in that small space.”
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it’s still trying to confirm the fate of two South Korean passengers and has sent staff to the scene. The Russian Ambassador to Nepal, Alexei Novikov, confirmed the death of four Russian citizens who were on board the plane.
Pokhara, located 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Kathmandu, is the gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular hiking trail in the Himalayas. The city’s new international airport began operations only two weeks ago.
The type of plane involved, the ATR 72, has been used by airlines around the world for short regional flights. Introduced in the late 1980s by a French and Italian partnership, the aircraft model has been involved in several deadly accidents over the years. In Taiwan, two earlier accidents involving ATR 72-500 and ATR 72-600 aircraft happened just months apart.
In July 2014, a TransAsia ATR 72-500 flight crashed while trying to land on the scenic Penghu archipelago between Taiwan and China, killing 48 people onboard. An ATR 72-600 operated by the same Taiwanese airline crashed shortly after takeoff in Taipei in February 2015 after one of its engines failed and the second was shut down, apparently by mistake.
ATR issued a statement after the Nepal crash that it was informed of the accident.
“Our first thoughts are with all the individuals affected by this,” its statement read. “ATR specialists are fully engaged to support both the investigation and the customer.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.