At least 68 people were killed on Sunday when an aircraft went down near the city of Pokhara in central Nepal, according to a government official. This is the country’s deadliest plane crash in more than 30 years.
The ATR 72 plane operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines was carrying 72 people, including four crew members and 68 passengers, when it crashed. Of the passengers, 37 were men, 25 were women, three were children and three were infants, as reported by Nepal’s civil aviation authority.
Search efforts were called off after dark, according to Army spokesman Krishna Prasad Bhandari, and will resume Monday morning. Before the search was suspended, hundreds of first responders were still working to locate the remaining four individuals.
Sunday’s incident is the third-deadliest crash in the Himalayan nation’s history, according to data from the Aviation Safety Network. The only incidents in which more people were killed took place in July and September 1992. Those crashes involved aircraft run by Thai Airways and Pakistan International airlines and left 113 and 167 people dead, respectively.
The civil aviation authority said that 53 of the passengers and all four crew members were Nepali. Among the passengers, 15 were foreign nationals, including five Indians, four Russians and two Koreans. The rest were citizens of Australia, Argentina, France, and Ireland.
The aircraft had been flying from the capital of Kathmandu to Pokhara, the country’s second-most populous city, and a gateway to the Himalayas, as reported by the state media The Rising Nepal. Pokhara is located around 129 kilometers (80 miles) west of Kathmandu.
The plane was last in contact with Pokhara airport at about 10:50 a.m. local time, about 18 minutes after takeoff. It then went down in the nearby Seti River Gorge. First responders from the Nepal Army and various police departments have been deployed to the crash site and are carrying out a rescue operation, according to a statement from the civil aviation authorities.
A video clip on social media on Sunday appeared to show the moments before the aircraft crashed. The film, which appears to be taken from the rooftop of a house in Pokhara, shows the plane flying low over a populated area and rolling on its side before the aircraft is no longer visible in the clip. A loud explosion can be heard at the end of the video.
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 spokesperson Bishnu Paudel.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said he was “deeply saddened by the sad and tragic accident.” He also tweeted an appeal to “the security personnel, all agencies of the Nepal government and the general public to start an effective rescue.”
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The government declared Monday a public holiday to mourn the victims, a spokesman for the prime minister said. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin both conveyed their condolences, as did Australia’s ambassador to Nepal. Nepal’s Yeti Airlines said it was canceling all regular flights on Monday, January 16, in mourning for the victims of the crash.
The Himalayan country of Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest, has a history of air accidents. The country’s weather can change suddenly and airstrips are typically sited in difficult-to-reach mountainous areas. Last May, a Tara Air flight carrying 22 people crashed into a Himalayan mountain at an altitude of about 14,500 feet.