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Nepal flight missing with 22 on board

KATHMANDU (AFP) – A passenger plane with 22 people on board went missing in Nepal yesterday, the operating airline and officials said, as poor weather hampered a search operation.

Nepal’s air industry has boomed in recent years, carrying goods and people between hard-to-reach areas as well as foreign trekkers and climbers. But it has a poor safety record.

The Twin Otter aircraft operated by Tara Air took off from the western town of Pokhara bound for Jomsom at 9.55am but air traffic control lost contact after 15 minutes.

“We are trying to locate the possible area where the aircraft might be,” spokesman for Tara Air Sudarshan Bartaula told AFP.

“Search and rescue teams from both the police and the army are heading towards that direction.”

He said there were 19 passengers on board and three crew members. The passengers included two Germans and four Indians, with the remainder Nepali.

Jomsom is a popular trekking destination in the Himalayas about 20 minutes by plane from Pokhara, which lies 200 kilometres west of the capital Kathmandu.

A team of climbers prepare to leave for rescue operations from the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. PHOTO: AP

Spokesman at the Ministry of Home Affairs Phanindra Mani Pokharel said two helicopters had been deployed for a search operation.

But he said visibility was low.

“The bad weather is likely to hamper the search operation. The visibility is so poor that nothing can be seen,” Pokharel said.

Nepal’s aviation industry has long been plagued by poor safety due to insufficient training and maintenance.

The European Union has banned all Nepali airlines from its airspace over safety concerns.

The Himalayan country also has some of the world’s most remote and tricky runways, flanked by snow-capped peaks with approaches that pose a challenge for even accomplished pilots.

The weather can also change quickly in the mountains, creating treacherous flying conditions.
In March 2018, a United States-Bangla Airlines plane crashed near Kathmandu’s notoriously difficult-to-approach international airport, killing 51 people.

The flight from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka crash-landed and skidded into a football field where it burst into flames.

Twenty passengers miraculously escaped the burning wreckage but sustained serious injuries.