October 08, 2008

Article at Reuters

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Small passenger plane crashes in Nepal, 18 dead

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A small private plane crashed in the remote mountains of northeast Nepal Wednesday, killing at least 18 people, mostly foreigners, airline and airport officials said.

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Twelve Germans and two Australians were among the dead. The rest were Nepalis. “There were 19 people on board,” said Vinay Shakya, an official of Yeti Airlines, a domestic airline.

A crew member survived and was taken to hospital in the capital Kathmandu by helicopter.

The aircraft, a Twin Otter carrying 16 passengers and three crew, crashed shortly before it was due to land at Lukla, known as the gateway to Mount Everest, about 80 miles northeast of Kathmandu.

“According to initial reports we have it crashed before it was to land and caught fire,” said Yagya Prasad Gautam, chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN). “The accident was probably caused by a last minute change in the weather.”

The remote airport at Lukla was built in the 1960s by mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary to facilitate expeditions to Mount Everest and bring development to the impoverished area where the Sherpa community, known for their climbing skills, live.

Nepal named the airport this year after Hillary and his climbing mate, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, as a tribute to the pair who climbed Everest first in 1953.

Media reports said rescue workers and locals fought for two hours to put out the fire.

Airport official Pratap Bista told state-run Nepal Television that the Lukla airport was among the most testing in the world.

In 2002, 18 people including 13 Germans, were killed when a small plane crashed in bad weather near Pokhara town in west Nepal. Nine people died in a similar crash in 2006.

About a dozen private airlines operate in Nepal. Many fly to remote areas that have no roads, mostly carrying foreign tourists to the Himalayan foothills, including Mount Everest.