By Binaj Gurubacharya Associated Press
KATMANDU, Nepal — A plane carrying trekkers to the Mount Everest region hit a bird and crashed just after takeoff Friday in Nepal’s capital, killing the 19 Nepali, British and Chinese people on board, authorities said.
The pilot of the domestic Sita Air flight reported trouble two minutes after takeoff and appeared to have been trying to turn back, said Katmandu airport official Ratish Chandra Suman. The crash site is only 547 yards from the airport, and the wrecked plane was pointing toward the airport area. Suman said the plane hit a vulture just after it took off, causing the crash.
Suman said he could not confirm whether the plane was already on fire before it crashed. Cellphone video shot by locals showed that the front section of the plane was on fire when it first hit the ground and that the pilot apparently had attempted to land the plane on open ground beside a river.
The fire quickly spread to the rear, but the tail was still in one piece at the scene near the Manohara River on the southwest edge of Katmandu. Villagers were unable to approach the plane because of the fire, and it took some time for firefighters to reach the area and bring the fire under control.
Soldiers and police sifted through the crash wreckage looking for bodies and documents to help identify the victims. Seven passengers were British and five were Chinese; the other four passengers and the three crew members were from Nepal, authorities said.
Large numbers of local people and security forces gathered at the crash site. The victims’ charred bodies were taken by vans to a hospital morgue.
Relatives of the Nepalese victims cried as they gathered at the Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital in Katmandu, where all the victims’ bodies were taken.
The weather in Katmandu and surrounding areas was clear Friday morning, and the plane was one of the first of the day to take off from Katmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport. Other flights reported no problems, and the airport remained open and operated normally after the crash.
The plane was heading for Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest. Thousands of Westerners make treks in the region around the world’s highest peak each year. Autumn is considered the best time to trek the foothills of the Himalayan peaks.
Airline officials identified the British crash victims as Raymond Eagle, 58, Christopher Franc Davey, 51, Vincent Kelly, 52, Darren Kelly, 45, Timothy Oakes, 57, Stephen Holding, 60, and Benjamin Ogden, 27.
The Nepalese passengers were identified as Kumar Marshyangdi Magar, Lakpa Noru Sherpa, D. Rai and M.K. Tamang. The crew members were pilot Bijay Tandukar, co-pilot Takashi Thapa and hostess Ruju Shakya.
China’s government-run Xinhua News Agency identified the Chinese victims as Wu-Hui, Qian-Mingwu, Wu-Lin, Wang-Jhihua and Yang-Chen.
Nepal, with its poor-quality mountain roads and network of little airports, has a long history of small plane crashes. Including Friday’s crash, there have been at least six crashes of small planes since October 2008.
The crash follows an avalanche on another Nepal peak Sunday that killed seven foreign climbers and a Nepali guide.