Rescuers gather at the site of a plane crash in Pokhara on January 15, 2023. (Photo by Yunish Gurung / AFP)
An aircraft with 72 people on board crashed in Nepal on Sunday, Yeti Airlines and a local official said.
“There are 68 passengers on board and four crew members… Rescue is underway, we don’t know right now if there are survivors,” the airline’s spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula told AFP.
He said the plane crashed between the old and new Pokhara airports in central Nepal.
The wreckage was on fire and rescue workers were trying to put out the blaze, said local official Gurudutta Dhakal.
“Responders have already reached there and trying to douse the fire. All agencies are now focused on first dousing the fire and rescuing the passengers,” Dhakal said.
Footage shared on social media showed flames on the ground and black smoke billowing into the sky, apparently from wreckage strewn across the crash site. AFP was unable to immediately verify the footage.
Nepal’s air industry has boomed in recent years, carrying goods and people between hard-to-reach areas as well as foreign trekkers and climbers.
But it has been plagued by poor safety due to insufficient training and maintenance.
The European Union has banned all Nepali carriers from its airspace over safety concerns.
The Himalayan country also has some of the world’s most remote and tricky runways, flanked by snow-capped peaks with approaches that pose a challenge even for accomplished pilots.
Aircraft operators say Nepal lacks infrastructure for accurate weather forecasts, especially in remote areas with challenging mountainous terrain where deadly crashes have taken place in the past.
The weather can also change quickly in the mountains, creating treacherous flying conditions.
In May 2022, all 22 people on board a plane operated by Nepali carrier Tara Air — 16 Nepalis, four Indians and two Germans — died when it crashed.
Air traffic control lost contact with the twin-propeller Twin Otter shortly after it took off from Pokhara and headed for Jomsom, a popular trekking destination.
Its wreckage was found a day later, strewn across a mountainside at an altitude of around 14,500 feet (4,400 metres).
About 60 people were involved in the search mission, most of whom trekked uphill for miles to get there.
After that crash authorities tightened regulations, including that planes would only be cleared to fly only if there was favourable weather forecast throughout the route.
In March 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines plane crash-landed near Kathmandu’s notoriously difficult international airport, killing 51 people.
That accident was Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed on approach to Kathmandu.
Just two months earlier, a Thai Airways aircraft had crashed near the same airport, killing 113 people.