Nepali rescuers called off their hunt for a missing passenger plane with 22 people on board late Sunday, planning to resume search operations at first light.
The Tara Airplane had taken off from the western town of Pokhara on Sunday morning but lost control with air traffic after 15 minutes, the airline said. 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 rescuers unsuccessfully scoured a remote mountainous area in western Nepal by helicopter and on foot all day Sunday, as weather hampered search flights. Nepal Army official Baburam Shrestha said the ground troops would stop at a local school for the night and be joined by additional forces in the morning. “We will also resume the search operation from our helicopter tomorrow morning once the weather is clear,” he said.
Dev Raj Subedi, a spokesman for Pokhara Airport, said three helicopters had to turn back. “Right now, we cannot say where exactly the aircraft is and in what condition,” he said, adding: “There has not been any reporting or information from locals about a big fire or any other such indications.” There were 19 passengers and three crew members on board the missing plane, which left for the town of Jomson at 9:55am (0410 GMT), airline spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula said.
The passengers included two Germans and four Indians, with the remainder Nepali. Relatives of those on board gathered outside the Pokhara airport, consoling each other as they wept and waited for news.
The Twin Otter aircraft’s last known location was in an area around Ghorepani, a village at 2,874 metres (9,429 feet) above sea level, according to the aviation authority. Jomsom is a popular trekking destination in the Himalayas about 20 minutes by plane from Pokhara, which lies 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu.
Tara Air is a subsidiary of Yeti Airlines, a privately owned domestic carrier which services many remote destinations across Nepal. It suffered its last fatal accident in 2016 on the same route when a plane with 23 on board crashed into a mountainside in Myagdi district.