KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Rescuers zeroed in on a possible location of a passenger plane with 22 people aboard that is feared to have crashed Sunday in cloudy weather in Nepal’s mountains, officials said.
The Tara Air plane was on a 20-minute scheduled flight from the resort town of Pokhara, 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Kathmandu, to the mountain town of Jomsom. The turboprop Twin Otter aircraft lost contact with the airport tower close to landing in an area of deep river gorges and mountaintops.
An army helicopter and private choppers were taking part in the search, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said in a statement.
Army troops and rescue teams were headed to the possible site of the crash, believed to be around Lete, a village in Mustang district, Narayan Silwal, the army spokesman, said on Twitter.
But bad weather and nightfall caused the search to be suspended until Monday morning, Silwal said.
“Poor visibility due to bad weather is hindering the efforts. The plane has not yet been located,” he said. Rescuers were trying to reach an area where locals allegedly saw a fire, although it is still unclear what was burning, Silwal added. He said that officials can only verify the information once the troops reached the location.
Sudarshan Bartaula, spokesman for Tara Air, said that rescuers had narrowed down a possible location of the plane.
According to plane tracking data from flightradar24.com, the 43-year-old aircraft took off from Pokhara at 9:55 a.m. (04:10 GMT) and transmitted its last signal at 10:07 a.m. (04:22 GMT) at an altitude of 12,825 feet (3,900 meters).
There were six foreigners on board the plane, including four Indians and two Germans, according to a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media.
The plane was carrying 19 passengers and three crew, Bartaula said.
It has been raining in the area for the past few days but flights have been operating normally. Planes on that route fly between mountains before landing in a valley.
It is a popular route with foreign hikers who trek on the mountain trails and also with Indian and Nepalese pilgrims who visit the revered Muktinath temple.
Nepal has had a spotty air safety record.
In 2016, a Tara Air Twin Otter flying the same route crashed after takeoff, killing all 23 people aboard. In 2012, an Agni Air plane also flying from Pokhara to Jomsom crashed, killing 15 people. Six people survived. In 2014, a Nepal Airlines plane flying from Pokhara to Jumla crashed, killing all 18 on board.
In 2018, a US-Bangla passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed on landing in Kathmandu, killing 49 of the 71 people aboard.
The Twin Otter, a rugged plane originally built by Canadian aircraft manufacturer De Havilland, has been in service in Nepal for about 50 years, during which it has been involved in about 21 accidents, according to aviationnepal.com.
The plane, with its top-mounted wing and fixed landing gear, is prized for its durability and its ability to take off and land on short runways.
Production of the planes originally ended in the 1980s. Another Canadian company, Viking Air, brought the model back into production in 2010.
This version has corrected the location to west of the capital, not east.