13 Indians among 15 killed in Nepal plane crash

Kathmandu: Thirteen Indian pilgrims were among 15 persons killed today when a small plane with 21 people on board crashed in northern Nepal after hitting a hill top while attempting to land at a high-altitude airport.

Six others, including three Indians and two Danish nationals, miraculously survived the crash of the Dornier 9N AIG aircraft belonging to the private carrier Agni Air, nearly eight months after 10 Indians perished in an air disaster near here. The plane, which flew from the resort town of Pokhara on its way to Jomsom, crashed at 9.30 am local time while landing at the mountain airstrip, said an official at the Rescue Coordination Committee of Tribhuvan International Airport.

The passengers had chartered the flight to take them from the central tourist hub of Pokhara to Muktinath, a famous Hindu pilgrimage in Jomsom near Tibetan border at the foot of the Thorong La Himalayan mountain pass, the official said. He said there were possibilities of a technical fault. "Thirteen Indian nationals and two Nepalese crew member were killed in the crash," the official said, adding rescuers have so far recovered nine bodies from the wreckage.

He said three Indians including two children, a Nepalese air hostess and two Danes have been rescued alive from the crash site. The injured were taken to a hospital in Pokhara and the three Indians who survived were out of danger, said Rescue Coordination Committee of the Tribhuvan International Airport. The high-altitude Jomsom airport, about 200 km northwest of the capital, is a gateway to a popular tourism and trekking destination situated more than 2,600m above sea level.

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai extended condolences to the victims` families and wished speedy recovery of the injured. Separately, Nepali Congress party leader Ram Chandra Paudel demanded a probe into the tragedy. When contacted, Indian embassy officials said they were trying to collect the details as there was some confusion over the nationalities of the passengers on board the ill-fated plane.

Agni Air marketing manager Pramod Pandey said two Danish nationals were also among the passengers. "It`s not that much difficult to land at the Jomsom airport. We are using experienced pilots over there. So, this pilot who was flying this aircraft had a lot of flying hours," he added.

The plane turned into pieces but did not catch fire. The bodies of pilot Prabhu Sharan Pathak and co-pilot JD Maharjan have been recovered. On September 25 last year, 19 people, including 10 Indians, were killed when a small plane carrying them crashed and broke into pieces at Kotdanda hills near the Nepalese capital while returning from a sight-seeing trip around Mount Everest.