Kathmandu: Thirteen Indians were among the 15 people killed when their 20-seater aircraft slammed into a cliff in western Nepal Monday, less than seven months after 10 Indian tourists were killed in an air accident. Six people miraculously survived the crash.
The Agni Air plane, carrying 16 Indians and two Danish passengers as well as three crew members, crashed in Jomsom, known for its splendid mountain views and the starting point for major trekking routes, at about 9.45 a.m. Monday.
Pramod Pandey, marketing director of Agni Air, confirmed that there were 16 Indians on board the Dornier aircraft and that there were six survivors.
Laxmi Raj Sharma, a district official, added that 15 bodies had been recovered.
Pilot Prabhu Sharan Pathak and co-pilot J.D. Maharjan were among the dead while the rest of the victims are Indians who were on a pilgrimage to the famous Muktinath temple, sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, reported myrepublica.com.
The six survivors, comprising two children, an Indian, two Danes and airhostess R. Haiju, were airlifted to Pokhara.
A photograph showed one of the Danish nationals being helped by two security personnel.
The plane was flying from Pokhara, a major tourist destination, to Jomsom, a distance of about 60 km.
Ramindra Chettri, Nepal Army spokesperson, told Xinhua that "a Nepal Army MI-17 helicopter has flown to the crash site to bring the bodies to the capital". The Jomsom airport, with the airstrip carved out of the mountain, is about 200 km northwest of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. The pilot, experts said, have to manouevre skillfully to land the plane in the treacherous mountain area.
The plane had taken off from Pokhara airport at 9.30 a.m. and crashed 15 minutes later on a cliff, while it was about to return to Pokhara following a technical glitch, Yogendra Kunwar, assistant manager at the traffic control room in Pokhara airport, was quoted as saying.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Gynanedra Singh Bhandari said the plane crashed behind the army barracks, enabling a quick rescue operation.
He also said that police and army were conducting rescue operations along with stand-by flights to carry the injured.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai expressed sorrow over the death of 15 people in the crash and wished for early recovery of the injured.
Jomsom is the capital and administration headquarters of Mustang district, which stretches from the Tibetan border to Ghasa along the Kali Gandaki river.
The tragedy was a reminder of the Sep 25, 2011 crash in which all 19 people, mostly Indian tourists, were killed after a small plane carrying them crashed close to capital city Kathmandu.
Agni Air, which began operations March 16, 2006 with one Dornier Do-228 aircraft, is now operating six aircraft, three Dornier-228 Aircrafts built in German and three Jetstream-41 built in Britain to various domestic sectors, its website said.
It flies to the popular tourist destinations such as Lukla, Tumlingtar, Biratnagar, Bhadrapur, Bhairahawa, Pokhara and Jomsom.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna has expressed grief and sadness over the death of 13 Indians who were killed in an aircrash in north -central Nepal this morning.
"I am deeply saddened to hear about the tragic air crash that occurred earlier this morning near Jomsong airport in Nepal. I would like to convey my deep condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives in this accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those who have lost their near and dear ones. I hope that the Almighty will grant them strength to bear their loss with fortitude," Krishna said in a statement.
The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu has set up 24- hour helplines to convey information about the crash.
The helpline numbers are 0097714423702 and 0097714410900 (Ext. 4109).