The plane left Kathmandu about 10:30 a.m. local time Sunday and was carrying 68 passengers and four crew members to Pokhara, a city about 125 miles to Kathmandu’s west and a 25-minute plane ride away. The city is known for its serene lake at the foot of forested mountains and is popular with tourists.
The plane crashed as it approached landing, Yeti Airlines spokesperson Sudarshan Bartaula said.
According to an airline statement, 53 Nepalese nationals and 15 foreign nationals were on the flight, including five from India, four from Russia, two from South Korea, one from Argentina, one from Australia, one from France and one from Ireland. The nationalities of those confirmed dead were not immediately clear.
Police, army, fire and airport rescue services were taking part in the response at the crash site, according to a statement from Yeti Airlines, which identified the downed aircraft as an ATR 72.
Nepal’s Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Ministry also announced the creation of a commission to investigate the crash. Nepal’s civil aviation authority said in a statement that two helicopters had also been deployed to the scene of the crash.
ATR, which manufactures turboprop engine aircraft and is based in France, tweeted that the accident involved an ATR 72-500 and that its specialists were “fully engaged” to support the investigation into the crash. “Our first thoughts are with all the individuals affected by this,” the company tweeted. According ATR’s website, the manufacturer’s 72-500 model can seat 68 passengers and has a range of 888 miles. ATR did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Sunday.
A witness told Reuters the aircraft appeared to have broken into half. “Half of the plane is on the hillside,” resident Arun Tamu, who reached the site minutes after the crash, told the news agency. “The other half has fallen into the gorge of the Seti river.”
It was Nepal’s second plane crash in the past year and Pokhara Airport’s first crash since it opened on Jan. 1.
Following a meeting of his cabinet, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal declared that Monday would be observed as a national holiday to mourn the victims.
In May, 22 people, including six foreign nationals, died after a Tara Air flight departing from Pokhara’s old airport crashed into the Himalayan mountainside, prompting the government to launch an investigation. The plane was headed for the tourist town of Jomsom on what was projected to be about a 20-minute flight.