Plane with 22 people on board missing in Nepal’s mountains

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KATHMANDU, Nepal — Rescuers zeroed in on a possible location of a passenger plane with 22 people aboard that is feared to have crashed Sunday in cloudy weather in Nepal‘s mountains, officials said.

The Tara Air plane, which was on a 20-minute scheduled flight to the mountain town of Jomsom, took off from the resort town of Pokhara, 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of Kathmandu. The turboprop Twin Otter aircraft lost contact with the airport tower close to landing in an area of deep river gorges and mountaintops.

An army helicopter as well as private choppers were taking part in the search, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said in a statement.

Army troops and rescue teams were headed to the possible site of the crash, believed to be around Lete, a village in Mustang district, Narayan Silwal, the army spokesman, said on Twitter.

“Poor visibility due to bad weather is hindering the efforts. The plane has not yet been located,” he said. Rescuers were trying to reach an area where locals allegedly saw a fire, although it is still unclear what was burning, Silwal added. He said that officials can only verify the information once the troops reached the location.

Sudarshan Bartaula, spokesman for Tara Air, said the air search may have to be stopped for the day because of nightfall. “Rescuers have narrowed down a possible location of the plane, but have not found any sign of the aircraft,” he said.

According to plane tracking data from flightradar24.com, the 43-year-old aircraft took off from Pokhara at 04:10 GMT and transmitted its last signal at 04:22 GMT at an altitude of 12,825 feet (3,900 meters).

There were six foreigners on board the plane, including four Indians and two Germans, according to a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media.

The plane carried 19 passengers and three crew, Bartaula said.

It has been raining in the area for the past few days but flights have been operating normally. Planes on that route fly between mountains before landing in a valley.

It is a popular route with foreign hikers who trek on the mountain trails and also with Indian and Nepalese pilgrims who visit the revered Muktinath temple.

In 2016, a Tara Air Twin Otter flying the same route crashed after takeoff, killing all 23 people aboard. In 2012, an Agni Air plane also flying from Pokhara to Jomsom crashed, killing 15 people. Six people survived. In 2014, a Nepal Airlines plane flying from Pokhara to Jumla crashed, killing all 18 on board.

In 2018, a US-Bangla passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed on landing in Kathmandu, killing 49 of the 71 people aboard.