Sixty-eight deaths were confirmed and four people were missing after a plane crashed Sunday in a Nepal ravine, the wreckage burning so hot that rescue workers were unable to aid at least one screaming victim.
Yeti Airlines Flight NYT691 crashed near the resort town of Pokhara at about 10:50 a.m. local time, the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority said. Two helicopters and a ground rescue team immediately responded to the scene, the agency said.
“The incident was tragic,” Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said. “The full force of the Nepali army police has been deployed for rescue.”
Brig. Gen. Krishna Prasad Bhandari, an army spokesperson, told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency that many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition and that 80% of the plane had been gutted by fire. The search for the four missing people will continue Monday, he told the outlet.
Local resident Bishnu Tiwari, who rushed to the site, said rescue efforts were hampered by thick smoke and a raging fire.
“The flames were so hot that we couldn’t go near the wreckage,” Tiwari said. “I heard a man crying for help, but because of the flames and smoke we couldn’t help him.”
Prem Nath Thakur, general manager of the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, said the plane had been granted landing clearance. The weather was “very good” in Pokhara, Thakur said, adding that the pilots did not report technical problems.
Hundreds of people gathered at the site soon after the crash of the twin-engine plane. Sixty-eight passengers and a crew of four were aboard the plane, the agency said.
The flight from Kathmandu, 125 miles to the east, was scheduled to take about a half-hour. Many family members gathered at Kathmandu airport, some exchanging heated words with officials as they awaited word on the fate of their loved ones.
The passenger list: 53 Nepalese, five Indian, four Russians, two Koreans and one person each from Argentina, Australia, Ireland and France. The Russian Ambassador to Nepal, Alexei Novikov, confirmed the death of four Russian citizens who were on the plane.
Video from the scene posted on social media appears to show the plane starting to roll as it approached the ground. The plane was built by the French-Italian aerospace company ATR, which said it had been informed of an accident involving an ATR 72-500.
“Our first thoughts are with all the individuals affected by this,” the company said in a statement. “The ATR specialists are fully engaged to support both the investigation and the customer.”
In July 2014, a TransAsia ATR 72-500 flight crashed while trying to land on the scenic Penghu archipelago between Taiwan and China, killing 48 people onboard. An ATR 72-600 operated by the same Taiwanese airline crashed shortly after takeoff in Taipei in February 2015 after one of its engines failed and the second was shut down, apparently by mistake.
The European Union has banned airlines from Nepal from flying into the 27-nation bloc since 2013, citing weak safety standards. In 2017, the International Civil Aviation Organization cited improvements in Nepal’s aviation sector, but the EU continues to demand administrative reforms.
An emergency meeting of the Nepal Council of Ministers was held Sunday at the prime minister’s official residence in Kathmandu. The government shut down all public services except for the emergency agencies, said Phadindra Mani Pokharel, spokesperson for the council. The government declared Monday a national day of mourning.
Yeti Airlines postponed all of its flights through Monday “in mourning for the passengers who lost their lives.”