A plane carrying trekkers to the Mount Everest region hit a bird and crashed just after takeoff yesterday in Nepal’s capital, killing the 19 Nepalese, British and Chinese people on board, authorities said.
The pilot of the domestic Sita Air flight reported trouble two minutes after takeoff and appeared to have been trying to turn back, Kathmandu airport official Ratish Chandra Suman said. The crash site is only 500m from the airport and the wrecked plane was pointing toward the airport area. Suman said the plane hit a vulture just after it took off, causing the crash.
Suman said he could not confirm whether the plane was already on fire before it crashed. Cellphone video shot by locals showed that the front section of the plane was on fire when it first hit the ground and that the pilot apparently had attempted to land the plane on open ground beside a river.
“The plane appeared to be on fire already before it landed,” said Harimaya Tamang, who lives near the crash site. “The plane hit the ground, bounced once, but it did not break.”
“The plane was already on fire, the local people rushed with buckets and tried to put out the flames but it was too hot and people could not get close enough,” she said.
Tanka Thapa, another witness, said they heard screaming inside the plane, but the doors were shut.
The fire quickly spread to the rear, but the tail was still in one piece at the scene near the Manohara River on the southwest edge of Kathmandu. It took some time for firefighters to reach the area and bring the fire under control.
Soldiers and police sifted through the crash wreckage looking for bodies and documents to help identify the victims. Seven passengers were British and five were Chinese; the other four passengers and the three crew members were from Nepal, authorities said.
Large numbers of local people and security forces gathered at the crash site. The victims’ charred bodies were taken by vans to a hospital morgue.
Relatives of the Nepalese victims cried as they gathered at the Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital in Katmandu, where all the victims’ bodies were taken.
Nepal, with its poor-quality mountain roads and network of little airports, has a long history of small plane crashes. Including yesterday’s crash, there have been at least six crashes of small planes since October 2008.