Plane crashes in Nepal with 14 on board

24th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

A small plane heading for the Everest region with 14 people on board including four Americans, a Japanese and a Briton crashed in bad weather near the Nepalese capital on Tuesday.

The Agni Air plane was returning to Kathmandu after it was unable to land at Lukla, its intended destination in a popular trekking spot in the Everest region of eastern Nepal, home ministry spokesman Jayamukunda Khanal told AFP.

Thousands of travellers fly into Lukla, 140 kilometres (90 miles) northeast of Kathmandu, every year to access the stunning Himalayan range that forms Nepal's northern border with Chinese-controlled Tibet.

Local villagers said they saw the plane crash into a field next to a school about 15 miles south of Kathmandu and break up on impact. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.

"There are small pieces of the plane all over the field and you can see body parts. We are all so shocked," villager Pratap Lama told the Kantipur radio station.

Relatives of some of the passengers gathered at the airport in Kathmandu to wait for news.

"My cousin is a trekking guide and he was flying up to take a group of tourists to Everest base camp," Ganesh Rijal, 40, told AFP.

"He got married recently and his wife is in deep shock. I have been waiting here for hours, but nobody has been able to tell me anything."

The home ministry's Khanal said rescue teams had been dispatched but heavy rain and the remoteness of the area were hampering the operation.

"The security forces have dispatched rescue teams but the area is very remote," he said.

Army helicopters were initially unable to fly to the area due to poor visibility, while landslides -- a frequent occurrence in Nepal during the current monsoon season -- were hampering road access, he said.

The 550-metre-long (1,800 feet) sloping airstrip at Lukla, perched on a hillside 2,757 metres above sea level, is considered one of the most difficult landings in the world.

The last major accident there was in 2008 when a Twin Otter plane carrying 18 people crashed killing everyone on board.

The airport is used by climbers heading for the heights of Everest, though now is the low season for both mountaineering and trekking.

Tourism is a major foreign currency earner for impoverished Nepal and the number of visitors has increased since a civil war between Maoist guerrillas and the state ended in 2006.

Earlier this year, the government announced an ambitious plan to attract a million tourists to the country in 2011 -- around twice the number that visited in 2009.

© 2010 AFP

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