A small plane headed for the Everest region crashed in bad weather near the Nepalese capital yesterday, killing all 14 people on board including four Americans, a Japanese and a British national.
The Agni Air plane was returning to Kathmandu after it was unable to land at Lukla, its intended destination in a popular trekking spot in eastern Nepal, government officials said.
Rescuers at the crash site described the scene as “horrific,” with the badly burned remains of the victims strewn over a field around 25km south of Kathmandu.
“Our teams have now reached the site and I can confirm that there are no survivors. All 14 people are dead,” said Bimlesh Lal Karna, head of rescue operations with the civil aviation authority.
“The scene is quite horrific. We are having to battle against hostile terrain and bad weather to recover the remains of the victims. We will bring them back to Kathmandu as soon as the weather permits,” he said.
Local villagers said they saw the plane crash into the field next to a school and break up on impact. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.
“There are small pieces of the plane all over the field and you can see body parts. We are all so shocked,” villager Pratap Lama told the Kantipur radio station.
Relatives of some of the passengers gathered at the airport in Kathmandu to wait for news.
“My cousin is a trekking guide and he was flying up to take a group of tourists to Everest base camp,” said Ganesh Rijal, 40. “He got married recently and his wife is in deep shock. I have been waiting here for hours, but nobody has been able to tell me anything.”
August is the rainy season in Nepal and helicopters were initially unable to fly to the crash area because of poor visibility. Landslides — a frequent occurrence in Nepal during the monsoon — also hampered road access.
Thousands of travelers fly into Lukla, 140km northeast of Kathmandu, every year to access the stunning Himalayan range that forms Nepal’s northern border with Chinese-controlled Tibet.
The 550m-long sloping airstrip at Lukla, perched on a hillside 2,757m above sea level, is considered one of the most difficult landings in the world and there have been several major accidents there.
The last was in 2008 when a Twin Otter plane carrying 18 people crashed killing everyone on board.
The airport is used by climbers heading for the heights of Everest, though August is the low season for both mountaineering and trekking.
Tourism is a major foreign currency earner for Nepal and the number of visitors has increased since a civil war between Maoist guerrillas and the state ended in 2006.
Earlier this year, the government announced an ambitious plan to attract 1 million tourists to the country next year — around twice the number that visited Nepal last year.