Chinese, British among 19 dead as Nepal plane crashes on take-off

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 10:48am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 4:55pm

A plane carrying trekkers to the Everest region crashed and burned just after take-off on Friday morning in Nepal’s capital, killing the 19 Nepali, British and Chinese people on board, authorities said. Witnesses said the fire appeared to have started before the crash.

The pilot of the domestic Sita Air flight reported trouble two minutes after take-off, and Katmandu airport official Ratish Chandra Suman said the pilot appeared to have been trying to turn back. The burned and wrecked plane was pointing toward the airport, only 500 metres away.

Eyewitnesses said the fire started before the plane hit the ground and then spread, but Suman said he could not confirm that and the cause of the crash was under investigation.

“The plane appeared to be on fire already before it landed,” said Harimaya Tamang, who lives near the crash site. “We thought the pilot was trying to force land because it was on fire and the river area had open space to land.

“The plane hit the ground, bounced once but it did not break,” she said. “The plane was already on fire, the local people rushed with buckets and tried to put out the flames but it was too hot and people could not get close enough.”

Tanka Thapa, another witness, said they heard screaming inside the plane but the plane was intact and the doors were shut.

Video footage showed the front section of the plane was on fire when it hit the ground. The fire quickly spread to the rear, but the plane appeared to be intact before burning apart near the Manohara River on the southwest edge of Kathmandu.

Soldiers and police shifted through the crash wreckage looking for bodies and documents to help identify the victims. Seven passengers were British and five were Chinese; the other four passengers and the three crew members were from Nepal, authorities said.

Large number of local people and security forces gathered at the crash site. The charred bodies were taken by vans to the hospital morgue.

The weather in Kathmandu and surrounding areas was clear on Friday morning, and it was one of the first flights to take off from Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport. Other flights reported no problems, and the airport operated normally.

The plane was heading for Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest. Thousands of Westerners make treks in the region around the world’s highest peak each year. Autumn is considered the best time to trek the foothills of the Himalayan peaks.

The crash follows an avalanche on another Nepal peak on Sunday that killed seven foreign climbers and a Nepali guide.