KATHMANDU, Nepal — A search was underway in Nepal on Sunday for a small plane with 22 people aboard that the government says crashed during a flight to a Himalayan tourist destination.
The Tara Air plane, a Canadian-made de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, which was carrying 19 passengers and three crew members, took off Sunday morning from the central city of Pokhara and headed for Jomsom, a village high in the Himalayas. Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane during the flight, which normally takes about 30 minutes.
Citing statements of locals, a Nepal Army spokesperson said the plane might have crashed at the base camp of Manapathi peak. Locals reportedly told the army that they had seen a “burning plane” falling toward the middle of rough terrain.
“Based on information provided by locals, we have diverted our ground searching and rescue team toward the alleged crash site,” said the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Narayan Silwal. “They are yet to reach the stated area.”
General Silwal said the army was unable to immediately carry out search-and-rescue operations by air because of bad weather. “Our helicopter rescue team is on standby at Jomsom airport,” he said, adding that they were “waiting for good weather.”
The Nepalese Army said on Twitter that “once our troops reach the location then only we can verify the findings officially and independently.”
Ground rescue teams, including the police, military personnel and locals, have been mobilized. “Air rescue team will reach the site once weather conditions improve,” General Silwal said. “Otherwise, it will be hard to reach out today itself.”
Jomsom is a popular tourist destination with trekkers because of its starkly beautiful snow-capped mountains. Hindu pilgrims from India, Nepal and other countries also visit to pray at the Muktinath Temple.
Thirteen of the passengers on the plane were Nepalis, four were Hindu pilgrims from India and two were German trekkers, said Sudarshan Bartaula, a Tara Air spokesman.
People in Nepal rely on small, twin-engine planes to reach far-flung parts of the mountainous country, and crashes are common. In 2016, a Tara Air plane crashed while flying the same route as the one that disappeared on Sunday. None of the 23 passengers and crew members on that flight survived.
Bad weather, difficult terrain and aging planes are often blamed for crashes in Nepal. The European Union has banned Nepalese airlines from its airspace since 2012, citing the frequency of crashes. In March, the bloc denied Nepal’s latest request for the ban to be lifted.