Small plane with 22 people goes missing in Nepal

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May 29 (UPI) — A small plane with nearly two dozen people on board went missing in Nepal on Sunday minutes before it was expected to land in the small village of Jomsom, popular among tourists.

“We would like to inform that the aircraft is out of contact,” a spokesperson for the flight’s private operator Tara Air said in a statement.

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The plane took off at 9:55 a.m. from Pokhara, which is about 80 miles west of the capital of Kathmandu, for the short flight to Jomsom. The two towns are just 48 miles apart.

Airline officials said air traffic controllers in Jomsom lost contact with the crew at 10:07 a.m. as the plane flew over Ghorepani, about 26 miles due south of the airport.

There were three crew members on the plane and 19 passengers, including 13 Nepalis, four Indians, and two Germans, according to airline officials.

“The search is being carried out rapidly by land and air,” airline officials said in another statement.

A search and rescue helicopter was sent from Jomsom to find the missing plane but had to return because of inclement weather, airline officials said. Helicopters will be sent to resume the search by air as the weather improves.

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An air traffic controller told the Times of India that they had received an unconfirmed report about a loud noise in Ghasa of Jomsom and that the plane is suspected of having crashed near Dhaulagiri Peak, the seventh highest mountain in the world.

The plane was reported by the Times of India as being a 43-year-old Twin Otter 9N-AET.

Nepal is home to most of the world’s tallest peaks, including Mount Everest, is known to have a history of air accidents because airstrips are typically in mountainous areas with unpredictable weather.

In February 2016, another Tara Air flight carrying 20 passengers and three crew members crashed during bad weather, killing everyone on board. That flight had also taken off from Pokhara for Jomsom.