At least 68 people were killed Tuesday when a plane crashed near the central Nepal city of Pokhara, a government official said, in the country’s deadliest plane crash in in more than 30 years.
Seventy-two people – four crew members and 68 passengers – were on board the ATR 72 plane operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines when the crash occurred, according to Yeti Airlines spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula. Thirty-seven were men, 25 were women, three were children and three were infants, Nepal’s civil aviation authority said.
Search operations were called off after dark, Army spokesman Krishna Prasad Bhandar said, and will resume Monday morning. Hundreds of first responders were still working to find the remaining four before then, Bhandar said.
Among the dead was at least an infant, according to Nepal’s civil aviation authority.
Sunday’s accident was the third deadliest crash in the Himalayan nation’s history, according to data from the Aviation Safety Network. The only fatal accidents occurred in July and September 1992. Those crashes involved flights operated by Thai Airways and Pakistan International, and killed 113 and 167 people, respectively.
The civil aviation authority said all 53 passengers and four crew members were Nepalis. Fifteen foreigners were on the plane: five from India, four from Russia, and two from Korea. The rest are from Australia, Argentina, France and Ireland.
The plane was flying from the capital city of Kathmandu to Pokhara, the country’s second largest city and the gateway to the Himalayas, the country’s media The Rising Nepal reported. Pokhara is located 129 km (80 miles) west of Kathmandu.
The plane’s final landing at Pokhara airport was at 10:50 am local time, about 18 minutes after takeoff. Then descend to the Seti River Gorge. First responders from the Nepal Army and various police agencies have been dispatched to the crash site and are conducting rescue operations, civil aviation authorities said in a statement.
A five-member committee has also been formed to investigate the cause of the crash. The quintet must submit a report to the government within 45 days, according to Nepal’s deputy prime minister and government spokesman Bishnu Paudel.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said he was “deeply saddened by the sad and unfortunate incident.”
“I strongly request the security personnel, all departments of the Nepal government and the general public to start an effective rescue,” Dahal said on Twitter.
The government declared Monday a public holiday to mourn the victims, the prime minister’s spokesman said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Russian President expressed their sympathy, as did the Australian ambassador to Nepal.
Nepal’s Yeti Airlines said it was canceling all flights on Monday, January 16, in mourning for those killed in the disaster.
The Himalayan country of Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, has a record number of aviation accidents. The weather changes suddenly and most of the places are located in difficult to reach mountainous areas.
Last May, a Tara Air plane carrying 22 people crashed into a Himalayan mountain at an altitude of 14,500 feet. It was the country’s 19th crash in 10 years and the 10th fatality during that time, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
The plane involved in Sunday’s crash was an ATR 72-500, a twin turbojet used in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly among low-cost carriers. The planes produced by ATR, a joint venture between the European airlines Airbus and Leonardo, have a good reputation.
However, they have been involved in clashes before. Two ATR 72s operated by the now-defunct Taiwanese airline Transasia were involved in fatal crashes in July 2014 and February 2015. The second prompted Taiwanese authorities to temporarily ground it. short of all ATR 72s registered in the country.
In all, the ATR 72 models had been involved in 11 fatal accidents before Sunday’s crash in Nepal, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
ATR said in a statement on Tuesday that it had been informed of the incident.
“Our first thoughts are that everyone is affected by this,” it said. “ATR experts are working hard to support the investigation and the customer.”