Nepal plane missing with 22 people on board, teams head site of fire

Police official said a land rescue-and-search team had been sent to the area near Mount Dhaulagiri, the world's seventh-highest peak.

  Tara Air DHC-6 Twin Otter, tail number 9N-AET, in Simikot, Nepal December 1, 2021. Picture taken December 1, 2021. (photo credit: Madhu Thapa/Handout via REUTERS)
Tara Air DHC-6 Twin Otter, tail number 9N-AET, in Simikot, Nepal December 1, 2021. Picture taken December 1, 2021.
(photo credit: Madhu Thapa/Handout via REUTERS)

A small passenger plane operated by a private airline went missing in mountainous Nepal on Sunday with 22 people on board during cloudy weather, and officials said search teams had been sent to the site of a fire spotted by local residents.

The "Tara Air" plane took off for a 20-minute flight from the tourist town of Pokhara, some 125 km (80 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu, but lost contact with the control tower five minutes before it was due to land, the government officials said. It was operated by Tara Air.

Flight-tracking website Flightradar24 said the missing De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter aircraft with registration number 9N-AET made its first flight in April 1979.

"Ground search teams are proceeding toward that direction," Tara Air spokesperson Sudarshan Gartaula told Reuters, referring to the fire site. "It could be a fire by villagers or by cowherds. It could be anything."

Search efforts

"One search helicopter returned to Jomsom due to bad weather without locating the plane," the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said in a statement.

"Helicopters are ready to take off for search from Kathmandu, Pokhara and Jomsom once weather conditions improve. Army and police search teams have left towards the site."

 A man looks inside the Tara Air counter at a domestic airport after one of its plane went missing while on its way to Jomsom, in Kathmandu, Nepal May 29, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakarv) A man looks inside the Tara Air counter at a domestic airport after one of its plane went missing while on its way to Jomsom, in Kathmandu, Nepal May 29, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakarv)

The airline said the plane was carrying four Indians, two Germans and 16 Nepalis, including three crew. Seven of the passengers were women, it said.

The country's weather office said there had been thick cloud cover in the Pokhara-Jomson area since the morning.

"A land rescue-and-search team had been sent to the area near Mount Dhaulagiri, the world's seventh-highest peak at 8,167 m (26,795 ft)."

Police official Prem Kumar Dani

Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains, including Everest, has a record of air accidents. Its weather can change suddenly and airstrips are typically situated in difficult-to-reach mountainous areas.

In early 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines flight from Dhaka to Kathmandu crashed on landing and caught fire, killing 51 of the 71 people on board.

In 1992, all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines PIAa.PSX plane were killed when it plowed into a hill as it tried to land in Kathmandu.