Thirteen Indians on a pilgrimage and two crew members were killed when a 20-seater plane slammed into a cliff in western Nepal yesterday, authorities said. The six who dramatically survived included three Indians, with two young girls among them.
The Agni Air Dornier plane, carrying 16 Indians and two Danes as well as three crew members, crashed in Jomsom, known for its magnificent mountain views and the starting point for major trekking routes, at about 9.45 am.
Air disaster: Nepalese rescue personnel transfer an Agni Air plane crash survivor into an ambulance at the Pokhara Airport. The tragedy is a reminder of the crash in September 25, 2011 which claimed all 19 passengers, mostly Indian tourists. Pic/AFP
The plane was flying from Pokhara, a major tourist destination, to Jomsom, about 60 km away.
The Indian embassy here said of the 18 passengers, 16 were Indians. “There were 21 people aboard out of which 16 were Indians,” an embassy official said. Those rescued included Sreekanth, aged between 35-40 years, and two girls — Sreevardhini (9), and Sreepada (6).
“The injured Indians are undergoing treatment at Manipal Hospital in Pokhara. The other 13 Indians are feared to be dead,” the embassy said in a statement.
Although the accident took place in a remote area, the presence of an army camp nearby helped speed up rescue operations.
Laxmi Raj Sharma, a district official, said 15 bodies had been recovered. Pilot Prabhu Sharan Pathak and co-pilot JD Maharjan were among the dead. The Indians were on a pilgrimage to the famous Muktinath temple, sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists.
According to myrepublica.com, the Indians killed were K Mamanya, SK Arora, M Handa, M Arora, R Handa, K Arora, T Sachdev, G Sachdev, Sanaim Sudhar, G Raman and Latha Echambade. Also dead were two passengers identified only as “Mr and Mrs Kumar”.
Television images showed one of the Danes being helped by two security personnel and the distraught airhostess being carried on a stretcher.
The Jomsom airport, with the airstrip carved out of the mountain, is about 200 km northwest of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. The pilot, experts said, have to manoeuvre skilfully to land the plane in the treacherous mountain area.
The plane had taken off from Pokhara at 9.30 am. and crashed 15 minutes later on a cliff while it was about to return to Pokhara following a glitch, Yogendra Kunwar, assistant manager at the traffic control room in Pokhara airport, said.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Gynanedra Singh Bhandari said the plane crashed behind the army barracks, enabling a quick rescue operation.
While Nepal’s Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai expressed sorrow over the air crash, India’s External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said he was “deeply saddened”. “I would like to convey my deep condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives in this accident,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families... I hope the Almighty will grant them strength to bear their loss with fortitude,” Krishna added.
Jomsom is the capital and administration headquarters of Mustang district, which stretches from the Tibetan border to Ghasa along the Kali Gandaki river.
Two years ago, another Agni Air plane went down. On August 24, 2010, a 15-seater Dornier flying towards the Everest region with 11 passengers, including four American women, experienced equipment failure and went off the radar. It plunged minutes later in Shikharpur, a remote village in Makwanpur district adjacent to the Kathmandu valley.
Agni Air, which began operations in March 2006 with one Dornier Do-228 aircraft, now has six planes — three Dornier-228 built in Germany and three Jetstream-41 built in Britain, its website said.