Soldiers of the Nepal Army aided by police began to collect scattered and badly burnt body parts in a village today after a private aircraft exploded in mid-air, killing all 14 people, including six foreign tourists, on board.
A 15-seater Dornier aircraft flown by domestic carrier Agni Air towards the Everest region in northern Nepal with 11 passengers, including four American women, experienced equipment failure and went off the radar.
One victim was Irina Shekhets, a 30-year-old Jewish woman.
The plane plunged in Shikharpur, a remote village in Makwanpur district adjacent to the Kathmandu valley.
Gyan Kumar Thakur, an eyewitness to the crash that occurred around 7.45 a.m., said there was a loud explosion before the aircraft dived and the wreckage began burning. The bodies and belongings of the passengers were thrown out on a tract of land inundated by rain water.
‘The site is difficult to reach due to last night’s incessant rain,’ Thakur told private television station ABC.
‘Villagers were guarding the broken bodies as rescue teams were held up by bad weather and fog. Passports and other papers were found scattered along with plane parts.’
The 11 passengers included six foreigners, four of whom were women, and five Nepalis.
Agni Air told IANS the passengers have been preliminarily identified as a Japanese male, Y. Hayashi, a British male, Jeremy Taylor, and four American women. They were Americans: Levzi Cardoso, Heather Finch, K. Fallon and Irina Shekhets.
The three crew members have been identified as Captain Laxman Prasad Vikram Shaha, co-pilot Sophia Singh and air hostess Sara Sherpa. Four of the Nepali passengers who died in the crash were identified as N.L. Sherpa, Ishwar Rizal, K. Rai and Prakash Amagain.
Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal officials said the aircraft was headed for Lukla in northern Nepal, considered the gateway to Mt Everest. However, the pilot complained of engine and other equipment failure.
Unable to land in Lukla, he was trying to seek a safe landing place elsewhere when the aircraft crashed in Makwanpur district, close to the Kathmandu valley.
But despite the closeness to the capital, lack of motorable roads and inclement weather prevented rescue teams, including an army helicopter carrying doctors, from reaching the crash site for hours.
When they finally reached the village, there were no survivors. The team has begun collecting the bodies, most of which are badly mangled and burnt.
An Indian, who travelled by air to southern Nepal Monday in inclement weather, mourned the crash.
A.K. Shrivastava said he had flown to Simra on the Indo-Nepal border on a domestic flight by private carrier Buddha Air Monday under similar bad weather.
‘I feel lucky as we (survived) the same weather while crossing the high mountains while (traversing) Kathmandu valley,’ said Shrivastava, who was returning to Patna in India.
‘For a couple of minutes, nothing could be seen due to thick clouds. It is a real problem in (monsoon) and crashes happen due to this reason mainly.’
He said: ‘It is high time that all advanced countries help Nepal to improve air traffic safety by providing better and sophisticated (air) systems to Nepal.’
This is the second major air disaster suffered by Nepal in two years. Bad weather, pilot error, difficult terrain, bad local airports and technical failures are held to be the main causes.
Most of the crashes occur in monsoon.
In 2008, a domestic airline crashed in the Everest region, killing 24 people, including 12 German tourists, a Nepali minister and his wife and noted conservationists.
The crash comes at a time Nepal is celebrating the entry of a Nepali airline to Bhutan, the first international airline to start flights to the Buddhist kingdom.
It also clouds efforts to celebrate 2011 as tourism year targeted to bring in 1 million tourists.