A small plane with 21 people on board and flying in poor visibility over mountainous terrain in Nepal on Wednesday has gone missing and feared to have crashed, officials said.
Domestic airline Tara Air said rescue helicopters had been deployed to search for the Twin Otter aircraft, which lost contact with air traffic control eight minutes after it left the western town of Pokhara on Wednesday morning.
“A plane that took off from Pokhara for Jomsom this morning is out of contact,” Tara Air spokesman Bhim Raj Rai told AFP.
“There are 18 passengers, including two foreigners, and three crew members on board.”
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The police chief at Jomsom, Harihari Yogi, said they had reports from local villagers of hearing a loud explosion near the small village of Rupshe and attempts were being made to reach it.
Jomson, in the Himalayas, is about 20 minutes’ flight from Pokhara, which lies 200km (125 miles) west of Kathmandu. It is popular for both foreign tourists visiting the Mount Annapurna and Mustang region for trekking, and for Hindu pilgrims visiting the Muktinath temple.
Airport official Yogendra Kuwar said there were no landing strips between the two airports and it is believed to have crashed.
Helicopters were searching the route more than two hours after the plane was to have landed, but poor weather conditions are making that difficult, he said.
Nepal, which is still reeling from a devastating earthquake last April, has suffered a number of air disasters in recent years, dealing a blow to its tourist industry.
Most have been attributed to inexperienced pilots, poor management and inadequate maintenance.
The country’s aviation sector has come under fire from international authorities and in 2013 the European Union banned all Nepalese airlines from flying there.