An airplane taking tourists on a morning sightseeing trip around Mount Everest crashed into a hillside near the Nepalese capital Kathmandu yesterday, killing all 19 people on board.
The Buddha Air Beechcraft plane, carrying 10 Indians, two Americans, one Japanese citizen and three Nepalese passengers, came down in heavy rain and fog at Godavari, about 10km from Kathmandu.
The three Nepalese crew also died in the accident as the plane smashed into wooded slopes, leaving the fuselage broken into several pieces.
“All 19 people have died. The Buddha Air-103 was returning from a mountain flight when it crashed into Kotdada Hill,” said Bimlesh Lal Karna, head of the rescue department at Tribhuwan International Airport in Kathmandu.
Police spokesman Binod Singh said one person had initially survived the crash, but had died in hospital.
“The rescue efforts have been hampered by heavy rain,” he added, confirming the nationalities of the passengers, although no further details about them were immediately available.
Airport authorities on the ground lost contact with the plane at 7:30am and it crashed four minutes later.
Local TV stations reported that witnesses saw flames coming from the aircraft just before it crashed.
“The plane was flying very low. We were surprised. It crashed into the hill and there was a huge explosion,” a witness told the Avenues TV news channel.
“We climbed for one-and-a-half hours without taking rest to reach the crash site,” he said. “Human body parts were visible.”
Buddha Air, a private airline based in Kathmandu, was not immediately available for comment, but was due to release a statement later.
The company offers a 8,240 rupee (US$140) “Everest Experience” package, taking tourists from Kathmandu and flying them around the world’s tallest mountain and surrounding peaks.
The Buddha Air Web site 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 Himalayan panorama.
The one-hour flights are popular among tourists and several companies offer daily trips to view the 8,848m Everest summit.
However, aviation accidents are relatively common in Nepal, particularly during the summer monsoon, when visibility is often poor.
In December last year, a Twin Otter plane carrying three crew and 19 passengers smashed into a mountainside shortly after taking off from a small airstrip 140km 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.
In November last year, 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 all 14 people on board, including four Americans, a Japanese and a British national.
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