Updated: May 30, 2022 5:24:12 am
AN AIRCRAFT with 22 people onboard, including four Indians from Thane, went missing in Nepal on Sunday morning with senior officials citing witness accounts of a “loud sound” and “fire” from near a remote, mountainous area in the western Mustang district to say that the plane crashed and that they “are prepared for the worst”. A Nepal Army search team is expected to reach the site on Monday.
The Indians on board have been identified as Vaibhavi Bandekar, Ashok Kumar Tripathy, Dhanush Tripathy and Ritika Tripathy.
According to local police in Thane, Ashok and Vaibhavi were separated but had travelled with their two children to Nepal to visit the Muktidham temple, a Vaishnavite shrine about 18 km away from Jomsom airport where the aircraft was headed.
In Kathmandu, officials said the aircraft crashed about six minutes before landing in Jomsom, adjoining Tibet. Operated by Tara Air, which is one of the two major domestic airlines in Nepal, the aircraft took off at 9.55 am from Pokhara for the 25-minute flight.
The Nepal government and Tara Air are yet to issue an official statement on the fate of those on the flight. “We are prepared for the worst and the family members of the Nepalis on board have been informed accordingly,” a senior official told The Indian Express.
Apart from the four Indians, the flight was carrying two Germans, 13 Nepalis and three crew members, including the pilot Prabhakar Ghimire, who is said to be one of the most senior instructors in the country with “long experience in flying in mountainous and hilly zones”.
Among the passengers was Basant Lama, a Tara Air pilot, who boarded the flight at the last minute after having piloted four flights in the morning.
Tara Air flight 9NAET that took off from Pokhara at 9.55 AM today with 22 people onboard, including 4 Indians, has gone missing. Search and rescue operation is on. The embassy is in touch with their family.
Our emergency hotline number :+977-9851107021. https://t.co/2aVhUrB82b
— IndiaInNepal (@IndiaInNepal) May 29, 2022
Jomsom airport is located at an altitude of 2,743 metres. Officials said bad weather and the remote terrain have hampered the search operation with two rescue helicopters unable to get close to the site near where local residents informed officials that they heard “a loud sound”.
“We are following the lead given by villagers, and the search and rescue team has no other alternative than to trek the route that will take a minimum four hours,” Major General Narayan Silwal, spokesperson of the Nepal Army, told The Indian Express.
“The plane has not yet been located. We are trying to reach the place where locals allegedly saw something burning. Only after our troops reach the location can we verify the findings officially and independently. Our rescue efforts from ground and air are relentless,” he said.
Late on Sunday, the Army said it had “halted all efforts of search and rescue for today due to loss of daylight and adverse weather. The search will be resumed early in the morning tomorrow, both from air and ground”.
Army sources said local residents near the crash area have claimed that the plane went down at the foothills of the Manapathi mountain.
According to officials, the last seven minutes of the air route to Jomsom consists of narrow passages that are difficult to negotiate in emergency situations.
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Two air crashes — both involving Twin Otters — took place in the area in May 2012 and 2013, the first one causing the death of all passengers, including Bollywood child actor Taruni Sachdev. (With Yogesh Naik in Mumbai)
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