By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
KATHMANDU (Worthy News) – Authorities in Nepal confirmed Sunday that at least 68 people died after a regional passenger plane with 72 aboard crashed into a gorge while landing at a newly opened airport in the resort town of Pokhara.
The Yeti Airlines aircraft went down in the 300-meter (1013 feet) Seti River Gorge as it traveled from Kathmandu to its destination Pokhara on Sunday.
Rescue teams said they recovered 68 bodies so far following a difficult search hours after the Asian nation’s deadliest aviation disaster in three decades.
Authorities said the grim process of identifying the dead was underway,
“The process of identifying the bodies has begun,” said Tek Prasad Rai, a spokesperson for the Nepal Police. “The rescue operation is going on, and we, along with our team, have gathered the bodies.”
Local television footage earlier showed rescue workers scrambling around broken sections of the aircraft. Some ground near the crash site was scorched, with licks of flames visible.
The weather had been clear, and there was no immediate indication of what caused the crash, officials said.
It was Nepal’s deadliest known air crash since 1992, when a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A300 crashed into a hillside upon approaching Kathmandu, killing all 167 people on board.
The plane on Sunday made contact with Pokhara airport from Seti Gorge at 10:50 a.m. local time, the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement. “Then it crashed.” At least 68 people were confirmed dead, it said.
Witnesses said half of the plane was on the hillside while another part fell into the gorge. Khum Bahadur Chhetri watched from the roof of his house as the flight approached.
“I saw the plane trembling, moving left and right. And then suddenly it nosedived, and it went into the gorge,” Reuters news agency quoted Chhetri as saying.
Those on board the twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft included three infants and three children, the Civil Aviation Authority’s statement said.
Among the passengers were reportedly five Indians, four Russians and one Irish, two South Korean, one Australian, one French, and one Argentine national.
Nepal’s government said it created a panel to investigate the cause of the crash, with a report due within 45 days.
France’s air accident investigation agency BEA said it would participate in the probe.
Nearly 350 people have died since 2000 in plane, or helicopter crashes in Nepal, according to official estimates.
The nation is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, making it more difficult for aviation.
Sudden weather changes can make for hazardous conditions, according to pilots flying in the area.
The European Union has banned Nepali airlines from its airspace since 2013, citing safety concerns.
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