From top to bottom left: Tara Air's DHC-6 Twin Otter during landing; rescuers carry out operation at the crash site; relatives weep outside the airport in Pokhara and the wreckage of the crashed plane. Reuters / AFP
Nepal authorities on Monday recovered or located the bodies of all but one of 22 people who were on board a plane that crashed into a Himalayan mountainside on Sunday, officials said, and the government has formed a panel to investigate the incident.
Two Germans, four Indians and 16 Nepalis were on the De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter aircraft which crashed 15 minutes after taking off from the tourist town of Pokhara, 125km west of Kathmandu, on Sunday morning.
Members of a rescue team carry out a operation at the crash site of a Twin Otter aircraft on a mountainside in Mustang. AFP
"There is very little chance to find survivors," said Deo Chandra Lal Karna, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
Nepali soldiers and rescue workers had retrieved 20 bodies from the wreckage, strewn across a steep slope at an altitude of around 14,500 feet. They were trying to recover another body they had seen, officials said.
The government said it had set up a five-member panel to determine the cause of the crash and suggest prevention measures for the future.
The wreckage of the crashed plane in a gorge in Sanosware in Mustang. AP
The difficult terrain and poor weather have hampered the search parties. An image published in Nepali media showed uniformed rescue workers moving a body from the wreckage and using ropes to haul it onto a stretcher and up a steep, grassy ridge.
"There is very thick cloud in the area," Netra Prasad Sharma, the most senior bureaucrat in the Mustang district, where the crash took place, told Reuters by phone.
In Kathmandu, the capital, relatives of victims waited for the bodies to be brought back from the crash site.
"I am waiting for my son’s body," Maniram Pokhrel told Reuters, his voice choking. His son Utsav Pokhrel, 25, was the copilot.
Operated by privately owned Tara Air, the aircraft crashed in cloudy weather and the wreckage wasn't spotted until Monday morning by Nepal's army.
Family members of passengers on board the Twin Otter aircraft weep outside the airport in Pokhara. AFP
The plane was headed to Jomsom, a popular tourist and pilgrimage site that lies about 80km northwest of Pokhara — usually a 20-minute flight.
But the aircraft lost contact with the Pokhara control tower five minutes before it was due to land, airline officials said.
The crash site is close to Nepal's border with China, in a region where Mount Dhaulagiri, the world's seventh-highest peak at 8,167 metres, is located.
"A search team has located the wreckage of the plane and shared a picture. Additional teams are heading there so we can get details," said Nepal Army spokesman Narayan Silwal.
A signage of Tara Airlines is seen behind in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Sunday. AP
An image shared by Silwal on Twitter showed debris from the wreckage of the flight strewn across a mountainside. Its registration number 9N-AET was clearly visible on what appeared to be a piece of a wing.
The search operation had only resumed earlier in the day after rescuers paused after dark on Sunday.
There were 19 passengers and three crew members on board the Twin Otter aircraft, operated by Nepali carrier Tara Air, airline spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula told AFP. The passengers included two Germans and four Indians, with the remainder Nepali.
Before the wreckage was found, Pokhara Airport spokesman Dev Raj Subedi told the media early on Monday morning that rescue helicopters and army troops on the ground had shifted their search to a suspected crash site.
Relatives of passengers on board the Twin Otter aircraft cry outside the airport in Pokhara, Nepal. AFP
"The search operation has resumed... There has not been any significant improvement in the weather. Two helicopters have flown toward the area but they have not been able to land yet," he said.
Subedi said that they had followed GPS, mobile and satellite signals to the location.
The flight took off from the western town of Pokhara for Jomsom on Sunday at 9:55 am (0410 GMT), but air traffic control lost contact after 15 minutes, the airline said.
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.
Flight operator Tara Air is a subsidiary of Yeti Airlines, a privately owned domestic carrier that services many remote destinations across Nepal.
Family members and relatives of passengers weep outside the airport in Pokhara on Sunday. AFP
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.
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 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 even for accomplished pilots.
The weather can also change quickly in the mountains, creating treacherous flying conditions.
The report states that air traffic control issued a second warning to the pilot to lower the plane's altitude. However, the pilot responded again by stating that he was satisfied and would handle the situation, saying he was ready for landing.
"Her husband, Dipak Pokhrel, died in 2006 in a crash of a Twin Otter plane of Yeti Airlines in Jumla," airline spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula told Reuters, referring to Khatiwada. "
"There are 68 passengers on board and four crew members... Rescue is underway, we don't know right now if there are survivors," the airline's spokesman Sudarshan Bartaula told the media. He said the plane crashed between the old and new Pokhara airports in central Nepal.
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She added that immediately after the operation, she had severe bleeding and blood accumulation in the neck, after which she was admitted to intensive care for two days.