Nepal plane crash survivors hopes at zero

Nepalese rescue workers on Monday searched a rubble-strewn ravine for four missing bodies from the mangled wreckage of a plane that crashed with 72 people on board, with hopes of survivors now “zero” according to authorities.

The Yeti Airlines ATR 72 crashed into the steep gorge, shattering into pieces and bursting into flames as it approached downtown Pokhara on Sunday morning in Nepal’s worst air disaster since 1992.

The cause of the crash was not yet known, but video on social media – verified by AFP partner ESN – showed the twin-propeller plane suddenly and sharply turning left as it approached Pokhara Airport. A loud explosion followed.

Nepal, which has a poor record on aviation security, marked a day of mourning for the victims on Monday.

Soldiers used ropes and stretchers to retrieve the bodies from the 300-meter-deep gorge late into the night, with recovery operations resuming on Monday.

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“We have collected 68 bodies so far. We’re looking for four more bodies. We should keep going until we have the bodies,” senior local official Tek Bahadur KC told AFP.

“We pray for a miracle. But the hope of finding anyone alive is zero,” he said.

Debris from the airliner was scattered across the crash site, including the shattered remains of passenger seats and the plane’s white fuselage.

Nepal plane crash survivors hopes at zero
Rescuers inspect the wreckage at the scene of a Yeti Airlines plane crash in Pokhara on January 16, 2023. (Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP)

– ‘Be in pain’ –

Raj Dhungana, the uncle of one of the 68 passengers, 23-year-old Sangita Shahi, told AFP outside a Pokhara hospital that his whole family was in “pain”.

He described a “very talented” young woman who was studying in Kathmandu while running a makeup studio on the side and working on an online business platform.

“God took such a nice person away,” he said.

The passenger list contained five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans and one person each from Argentina, Australia, France and Ireland. The rest were Nepalis.

“Incredibly sad news,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed his condolences.

The ATR 72 was on a flight from the capital Kathmandu and landed between the brand new Pokhara International Airport and the old domestic airport just before 11:00 am (0515 GMT) on Sunday.

“I was walking when I heard a loud explosion like a bomb went off,” said witness Arun Tamu, 44, who was about 500 meters away and posted live streaming video of the burning wreckage to social media.

ALSO READ: Nepal Tightens Flight Rules After Crash Kills 22

“Some of us rushed over to see if we could save anyone. I saw at least two women breathing. The fire became very intense and it made it difficult for us to get any closer,” the former soldier told AFP.

It was unclear whether anyone was injured on the ground.

Aviation expert Greg Waldon told AFP that video shared on social media shows the plane may have had a “wing stall,” meaning one wing suddenly stopped providing lift.

“When you’re at low altitude and you have an event like this… it’s a big problem,” Waldon, Asia editor-in-chief at industry publication FlightGlobal, told AFP.

France-based manufacturer ATR said in a statement on Sunday that its “specialists are fully committed to assisting both the investigation and the customer”.

Nepalese Air Industry

The Nepalese aviation industry has boomed in recent years, moving goods and people between inaccessible areas and ferrying foreign mountaineers.

Yeti Airlines, Nepal’s second largest airline, was founded in 1998 by entrepreneur Ang Tshering Sherpa, who died in a helicopter crash in 2019.

ALSO READ: All 22 bodies recovered after plane crash in Nepal

The aviation sector suffers from a lack of safety due to insufficient training and maintenance. The European Union has banned all Nepalese airlines from its airspace over safety concerns.

Nepal also has some of the most remote and difficult airstrips in the world, flanked by snow-capped peaks with difficult approaches and capricious weather.

The country’s deadliest aviation accident occurred in 1992, when all 167 people died on a Pakistan International Airlines plane when it crashed on approach to Kathmandu.

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