A domestic flight traveling from the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, crashed near Pokhara International Airport on Sunday morning, killing at least 68 people, according to officials.
The aircraft, operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines, was holding 68 passengers and four crew members, officials said. Fifteen of these people were international travelers from countries like India, Russia, South Korea, and France. The aircraft was also carrying three infants and three children.
“Pained by the tragic air crash in Nepal in which precious lives have been lost, including Indian nationals,” tweeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday. “In this hour of grief, my thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families.”
What happened to Flight NYT 691
Flight NYT 691, an ATR 72-500 aircraft, was flying from the capital of Kathmandu to Pokhara, and was scheduled to be a short, 24-minute-long trip. The plane left Kathmandu at 10:32 a.m. and last made contact with the tower at 10:50 a.m. Local media reports say that the pilot requested the aircraft land on a different runway before crashing on the bank of the Seti River, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
Authorities and rescue teams rushed to the crash site to conduct a search and rescue operation, according to Nepal’s civil aviation authority.
The cause of the crash—which occurred in mild weather less than a minute before the plane was due to arrive—is still under investigation. Yeti Airlines said they would be canceling all flights on Monday to mourn the victims of the crash.
When officials resumed searching the crash site on Monday, the flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder were retrieved, said a spokesperson for the civil aviation authority. Both “black boxes” will be handed over to investigators, Yeti Airlines confirmed.
ATR released a statement on Sunday following the crash.
“Our first thoughts are with all the individuals affected by this,” the statement read. “ATR specialists are fully engaged to support both the investigation and the customer.”
Who was killed in the crash?
The Civil Aviation Authority said 38 people have now been identified. These fatalities include a pharmaceutical marketing agent traveling to see his pregnant sister who was due to give birth, and the minister of a Korean religious group returning to the school he founded, the Associated Press reported.
Jannet Palavecino, an Argentine passenger and hotel manager, was also killed according to tweets by Omar Gutiérrez, the governor of Argentina’s Neuquen province from which Palavecino hailed from.
Additional victims include Nepali folk singer, Nira Chhantyal—whose Facebook page shows she was traveling to Pokhara to perform at an event on Monday—and 33-year-old Russian travel blogger Elena Banduro, who posted a selfie of herself on a plane with the caption: “Go to Nepal!” ahead of the crash, Britain’s Metro reported.
On Monday, many of the victims’ families and friends gathered outside Pokhara Academy of Health and Science, Western Hospital, where the bodies are being held until postmortems are complete. They are waiting for access to the remains of their loved ones, in order to carry out funeral arrangements.
Nepal’s history of plane crashes
This incident marks Nepal’s worst crash in more than 30 years, when the country suffered two deadly plane crashes in 1992. Those crashes, however, were operated by international airlines from Thailand and Pakistan, and left 113 and 167 people dead.
A 2019 safety report from Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority cites the country’s “hostile topography” and “diverse weather patterns” as the biggest dangers to flights in the country, according to the Associated Press, though the report attributes many accidents to “pilot error.”
Since 2000, nearly 350 people have died in a plane or helicopter crash in Nepal, according to Reuters. The European Commission’s Air Safety List also prohibits all Nepali airlines from operating in Europe due to safety concerns.
“I am deeply saddened by the tragic accident of Yeti Airlines ANC ATR 72, which was flying from Kathmandu to Pokhara with passengers,” tweeted Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Prime Minister of Nepal. “I sincerely appeal to the security personnel, all agencies of the Nepal government and the general public to start an effective rescue.”
—Armani Syed contributed reporting from London
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