At least 68 people were killed when a plane crashed near the central Nepal city of Pokhara on Sunday, a government official said, in the country’s worst air disaster in more than 30 years.
Yeti Airlines spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula said 72 people — four crew members and 68 passengers — were on board the ATR-72 aircraft operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines when it crashed. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal reported that 37 of them were men, 25 were women, 3 were children, and 3 were infants.
First responders were still trying to find the last eight passengers, but they had “lost hope of finding them alive,” Fanindra Mani Pokharel, joint secretary at Nepal’s interior ministry, told CNN. A local official had previously expressed hope that some survivors could be found.
At least one infant was among the dead, according to the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority.
Sunday’s accident was the third-worst crash in the Himalayan nation’s history, according to the Aviation Safety Network. The only incidents with more fatalities occurred in July and September 1992. The accidents involving aircraft operated by Thai Airways and Pakistan International Airlines killed 113 and 167 people respectively.
The Civil Aviation Authority stated that all 53 passengers and four crew members on board were Nepalese. There were also 15 foreigners on board: five Indians, four Russians and two South Koreans. The rest are individual citizens of Australia, Argentina, France and Ireland.
The plane was flying from the capital, Kathmandu, to Pokhara, the country’s second most populous city, according to the country’s state-run Rising Nepal newspaper. Pokahara is located approximately 129 kilometers (80 miles) west of Kathmandu.
The plane last made contact with Pokhara airport at around 10:50 am local time, about 18 minutes after takeoff. It then descends in the nearby Seti River Gorge. First responders from the Nepal Army and various police departments have been deployed to the crash site and rescue operations are ongoing, Nepal’s civil aviation authority said in a statement.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said he was “deeply saddened by the tragic accident”.
“I sincerely appeal to security personnel, all Nepal government agencies and the public for an effective rescue,” Dahal said on Twitter.
Nepal’s Yeti Airlines said it would cancel all scheduled flights on Monday, January 16, in mourning for the victims of the crash.
The Himalayan nation of Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 tallest peaks, including Mount Everest, has been the site of a plane crash. Its weather can change suddenly, and airstrips are often located in hard-to-reach mountainous areas.
Last May, a Tara Air flight with 22 people on board crashed in the Himalayas at an altitude of about 14,500 feet. It was the country’s 19th crash in 10 years and its 10th deadly in the same period, according to the Aviation Safety Network database.
The plane involved in Sunday’s crash was an ATR 72-500, a twin-prop turbojet engine often used by low-cost airlines in the Asia-Pacific region. Aircraft manufactured by ATR, which is a joint partner of European airlines Airbus and Leonardo, generally have a good reputation.
However, they have also been involved in crashes before. Two ATR 72s operated by the now defunct TransAsia Airways were involved in fatal accidents in July 2014 and February 2015. The second accident prompted Taiwanese authorities to temporarily ground all ATR 72s registered on the island.
Various variants of the ATR 72 were involved in a total of 11 fatal crashes before Sunday’s crash in Nepal, according to the Aviation Safety Network.