A small passenger plane with 22 people on board went missing in cloudy weather in Nepal on Sunday, and authorities suspended searches in difficult areas overnight.
“The search operation has been suspended for today due to darkness,” police spokesman Bishnu Kumar KC told Reuters. “We haven’t made any progress. The search will resume tomorrow morning.”
Officials said bad weather and mountainous terrain had hampered their efforts to locate the plane, a De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter owned by privately owned Tara Air.
Officials said the plane took off for a 20-minute flight in the morning but lost contact with the control tower five minutes earlier due to the ground.
The plane took off from the tourist city of Pokhara, 125 km (80 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu. It headed towards Jomsom, about 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Pokhara and is a popular tourist and pilgrimage site.
In a district bordering Tibet, villagers saw a plane catch fire at the source of the Lianko Khola River at the foot of the Himalayan mountain Manapati, state-owned Nepal Television said.
“Earthquake search teams are moving in that direction,” Tara Air spokesman Sudarshan Gartola told Reuters, referring to the site of the fire. “It could be set on fire by villagers or herdsmen. It could be anything.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) also said that a team had left for the area.
The airline said there were four Indians, two Germans and 16 Nepalese on board, including three crew members.
The flight tracking website Flightradar24 stated that the missing plane, with registration number 9N-AET, made its maiden flight in April 1979.
The Meteorological Department said that the Pokhara-Jomsen area has been overcast since morning.
Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, has a record of air accidents. The weather can change suddenly and the runways are usually located in mountainous areas which are difficult to reach.
In early 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines flight from Dhaka to Kathmandu crashed and caught fire during landing, killing 51 of the 71 people on board.
In 1992, all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it crashed into a hill while trying to land in Kathmandu.
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