Sudarshan Bartaula, spokesperson of the airline ‘Tara Air’, said that the ‘Twin Otter 9N-AET’ aircraft had four Indian nationals, two German nationals and 13 Nepalese passengers, besides three Nepalese crew members. He said that the plane was going from Pokhara to the famous tourist town of Jomsom in central Nepal.
The airline has released the list of passengers, in which the Indians have been identified as Ashok Kumar Tripathi, his wife Vaibhavi Bandekar (Tripathi) and their children Dhanush Tripathi and Ritika Tripathi. This family was currently living in Thane near Mumbai.
CAAN said in the statement, “The search operation at the possible sites has been hampered due to inhospitable mountainous area and bad weather, due to which the position of the aircraft is not yet known.” It said, “However, Rescue Coordination Center 24 Hours are open and search operations will be intensified by air and land routes.
A spokesman for the Nepalese army said soldiers and helicopters along with rescue teams were trying to locate the probable site. It is believed that this place may lie in or around Mustang.
“Efforts are being hampered by low visibility due to bad weather,” the spokesman said. The plane has not yet been located. We are trying to reach the spot where the locals have reportedly seen something burning. When our soldiers reach that place then only we can say anything officially and freely.
He said the army has suspended search and rescue efforts for today due to darkness and inclement weather. The search operation will resume on Monday morning both by air and by land. He said that search and rescue teams have been kept ready in Jomsom.
The Indian Embassy in Nepal has also provided its emergency hotline number +977-9851107021. The embassy tweeted, “Tara Air flight number 9NAET took off from Pokhara at 9:55 am today. There were 22 people on board, including four Indians. This plane has gone missing. Search and rescue operation is on. The embassy is in touch with their families.
Pokhara airport information officer Dev Raj Adhikari was quoted as saying that the crew members were led by Captain Prabhakar Prasad Ghimire. Utsav Pokharel as co-driver and Kismi Thapa as flight attendant were in the crew of the aircraft.
The plane was supposed to land at Jomsom airport in the western hills, but lost contact with the tower in the sky over Ghorepani on the Pokhara-Jomsom air route. According to an air traffic controller of Jomsom airport, there has been an unconfirmed report of a loud sound in Ghasa, Jomsom. It is suspected that the plane crashed in Dhaulagiri area.
Meanwhile, MyRepublica quoted Tribhuvan International Airport General Manager Premnath Thakur as saying that a Nepal Army helicopter carrying 10 personnel and two Civil Aviation Authority personnel landed on the banks of a river near Narsingh Math, the likely crash site.
Interestingly, ‘Nepal Telecom’ found through the ‘Global Positioning System’ (GPS) network where the mobile phone of the pilot of the aircraft, Captain Prabhakar Ghimire, was located, after which the aircraft was traced.
“Captain Ghimire’s mobile phone of the missing aircraft is being called and Nepal Telecom has traced the captain’s phone, following which a Nepalese army helicopter has landed at the probable crash site,” Thakur was quoted as saying. ‘
Chiranjeevi Rana, chief district officer of Myagdi, told The Kathmandu Post newspaper that inclement weather was hampering search efforts at the site where locals last saw the plane. According to Rana, locals reported that the plane made two rounds in Khaibang and headed towards Keeti Danda near ‘Lete Pass’ (2,500 metres).
He said, “A team of police has been sent towards the spot. It is a 12 hour walk from this site to Leyte. There are no human settlements at the place where the plane was last seen.” Rana said, “The helicopter will start aerial operations as soon as the weather improves.”
The helicopter, which flew to Pokhara in search of the missing aircraft, returned without any success due to bad weather. The country’s Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand has directed the authorities to intensify the search operation to locate the missing aircraft.
Mustang Chief District Officer Netra Prasad Sharma said that following the instructions of the Home Minister, the security officers in the five districts adjoining Dhaulagiri peak have been asked to be alert. Mi-17 helicopter of Nepal Army has been sent to Layte from Kathmandu to assist in the search operation. At the same time, the relatives of the passengers aboard the plane have gathered at Pokhara airport.
It is worth noting that in 2016, a plane of the same airline crashed on the same route after taking off, killing all 23 people on board. In March 2018, a US-Bangla Air plane crashed at Tribhuvan International Airport, killing 51 people on board.
A Sita Air plane crashed during an emergency landing at Tribhuvan International Airport in September 2012, killing 19 people. A Pokhara to Jomsom plane crashed near Jomsom airport on 14 May 2012, killing 15 people.
According to the airline’s website, Tara Air is the newest and largest service provider operating in the Nepalese mountainous areas. It started the business in 2009 with the mission of helping to develop the rural area of Nepal.
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(Except for the headline, this news has not been edited by the NDTV team, it has been published directly from the Syndicate feed.)