The aircraft hit a cliff, says official; reason not known

Thirteen Indians were among the 15 people who died when a plane crashed in north-western Nepal on Monday morning.

The Agni Air Dornier 9N AIG aircraft had flown from the tourist hub of Pokhara to Jomsom in the upper Himalayas, but crashed on its return after being unable to land there. Jomsom in Mustang district lies at the heart of the Annapurna range, and is close to Muktinath temple — which the Indian tourists had planned to visit.

The pilot, P S Pathak, and copilot, S D Maharjan, died on the spot. A Nepali air-hostess, two Danes, and three Indians — including two children — survived. The Indian adult survivor, Tirumala Kidambi Sreekanth, is suffering from head injury and is understood to be critical. They are being treated in Pokhara, while the bodies of the dead have been brought back to Kathmandu.

Tri Ratna Manandhar, Director General of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), told The Hindu that it was too early to pin-point the reasons for the crash. “The government has set up an investigations team. We cannot speculate about the reasons right now.” There was some confusion through the day about whether the plane had crashed while attempting to land in Jomsom, or had taken off from there, or had been diverted back to Pokhara after being unable to land in Jomsom. Mr Manandhar clarified the situation, saying, ‘The pilot said he was diverting back to Pokhara and after turning, the aircraft hit a cliff.”

Aviation expert, Hemant Arjyal, said, “If the plane had turned back, the question is whether it was because of a technical snag or weather. The crash site is quite close to Jomsom airport.” The latest crash comes eight months after a mountain flight of Buddha Air, another private sector airline, crashed near Kathmandu, killing19 passengers, including 10 Indians. There have been over half a dozen air-crashes involving small airplanes in recent years in Nepal.

In a statement, the Indian embassy in Kathmandu said they were maintaining close contact with Nepal's authorities, ‘who extended the fullest cooperation in carrying out search and relief operations at the site of the crash'. The embassy's Pension Paying Office in Pokhara was providing active support and relief to the Indians being treated at the Manipal hospital there. The embassy also set up an information centre in Kathmandu, numbers for which are 00-977-1-4410900/4411699 (extension 4109).

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said he was ‘deeply saddened’ to hear about the crash. He conveyed ‘his deep condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives in the accident’.

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