Authorities in Nepal said 68 people have been confirmed dead after a regional passenger plane with 72 on board crashed into a gorge while landing at a newly-opened airport in the resort town of Pokhara.
It is the country’s deadliest aviation accident in three decades.
Scores of rescue workers and onlookers crowded near the steep gorge as rescuers combed the wreckage on the edge of the cliff and in the ravine below.
Local resident Bishnu Tiwari, who rushed to the crash site to help search with the search, said rescue efforts were hampered because of thick smoke and a raging fire that engulfed the aircraft.
“The flames were so hot that we couldn’t go near the wreckage,” he said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the accident.
A witness said he saw the aircraft spinning violently in the air after it began to attempt a landing. Gaurav Gurung said the plane fell nose-first towards its left and then crashed into the gorge.
At the crash site near the Seti River, nearly a mile from Pokhara International Airport, rescuers sprayed fire hoses and heaved ropes down to another smouldering part of the wreck below. At Kathmandu airport, where the flight began, family members appeared distraught as they were escorted inside.
“The plane caught fire after the crash. There was smoke everywhere,” Mr Gurung said.
The aviation authority said the plane last made contact with the airport from near Seti Gorge at 10.50am local time.
The twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft, operated by Nepal‘s Yeti Airlines, was flying from the capital, Kathmandu, to Pokhara, a 27-minute flight.
It was carrying 68 passengers, including 15 foreign nationals, as well as four crew members, the Civil Aviation Authority said.
The foreigners included five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France.
Tek Bahadur KC, a senior administrative officer in the Kaski district, said he expected rescue workers to find more bodies at the bottom of the gorge.
Images and videos shared on Twitter showed plumes of smoke billowing from the crash site as rescue workers, Nepali soldiers, and crowds of people gathered around the wreckage of the aircraft to find survivors.
The aircraft’s fuselage was split into multiple parts which were scattered down the gorge.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who rushed to the airport after the crash, set up a panel to investigate the accident.
“The incident was tragic. The full force of the Nepali army, police has been deployed for rescue,” he said.