Hopes were fading in Nepal on Monday of finding any survivors among the 22 people aboard a small plane that crashed into a Himalayan mountainside a day earlier, officials said, with just two people still to be accounted for.
Two Germans, four Indians and 16 Nepalis were aboard the De Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter aircraft which crashed 15 minutes after taking off from the tourist town of Pokhara, 125 km (80 miles) west of Kathmandu, on Sunday morning.
“There is very little chance to find survivors,” Deo Chandra Lal Karna, a spokesman for Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, said.
Nepali soldiers and rescue workers had retrieved 20 bodies from the wreckage, strewn across a steep slope at an altitude of around 14,500 feet.
The difficult terrain and poor weather had hampered the search parties. An image published in Nepali media showed uniformed rescue workers moving a body from the wreckage and using ropes to haul it on a stretcher up a steep, grassy ridge.
“There is very thick cloud in the area,” Netra Prasad Sharma, the most senior bureaucrat in the Mustang district, where the crash took place, he told Reuters by phone. “The search for bodies is going on.”
In Kathmandu, relatives of victims waited for the bodies to be brought back from the crash site, and aviation authority said in a tweet that formal identification of victims had yet to take place.
“I am waiting for my son’s body,” Maniram Pokhrel told Reuters, his voice choking. His son Utsav Pokhrel, 25, was the copilot.
Operated by privately owned Tara Air, the aircraft crashed in cloudy weather on Sunday morning and the wreckage wasn’t spotted until Monday morning by Nepal’s army.
The destination was Jomsom, a popular tourist and pilgrimage site that lies about 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Pokhara – usually a 20-minute flight.
But the aircraft lost contact with the Pokhara control tower five minutes before it was due to land, airline officials said.
The crash site is close to Nepal’s border with China, in region where Mount Dhaulagiri, the world’s seventh highest peak at 8,167 meters (26,795 feet), is located.
Flight-tracking website Flightradar24 said the aircraft, with registration number 9N-AET, made its first flight 43 years ago.
Air accidents are not uncommon in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, as weather can change suddenly, making airstrips in the mountains hazardous.
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.