Four members of a Mumbai family are among 22 people aboard a small plane belonging to a local airline that went missing on Sunday in the mountainous Himalayas region, minutes after taking off from the tourist city of Pokhara, officials said.
Nepal’s Tara Air Twin Otter 9N-AET plane took off from Pokhara at 10:15 a.m. and lost contact with the control tower 15 minutes later, an airline spokesman said.
There are four Indian nationals, two Germans and 13 Nepalese passengers in addition to a three-person Nepalese crew, said Sudarshan Bartaula, a spokesman for the airlines.
The airline has released the passenger list on which four Indians have been identified as Ashok Kumar Tripathi, Dhanush Tripathi, Ritika Tripathi and Vaibhawi Tripathi.
“Tara Air flight 9NAET which departed Pokhara at 9:55 am today with 22 people on board, including 4 Indians, is missing. The search and rescue operation is underway. The embassy is in contact with their families. Our emergency number :+977-9851107021 ‘ tweeted the Indian embassy in Nepal.
The three-man crew of the plane was led by Captain Prabhakar Prasad Ghimire. Utsav Pokhrel is the co-pilot, while Kismi Thapa is the flight attendant, My Republica newspaper reported, citing Pokhara Airport Information Officer Dev Raj Adhikari.
The plane was due to land at 10:15 a.m. at Jomsom Airport in the western mountain region.
The plane lost contact with the tower from the sky over Ghorepani on the Pokhara-Jomsom air route, aviation sources said.
According to an air traffic controller at Jomsom Airport, they have an unconfirmed report of a loud noise in Ghasa of Jomsom.
It is suspected that the plane crashed in the Dhaulagiri area, the newspaper DSP quoted Ram Kumar Dani from Mustang as saying.
Meanwhile, a Nepalese army helicopter carrying 10 soldiers and two civil aviation officials landed on the bank of a river near Narshang Monastery, the possible site of the crash, said Prem Nath Thakur, general manager of Tribhuvan International Airport. as the newspaper says.
Interestingly, the plane was located after Nepal Telecom tracked down the cell phone of the plane’s pilot, Captain Prabhakar Ghimire, through the Global Positioning System (GPS) network.
“Captain Ghimire’s mobile phone of the missing plane is ringing and the Nepalese army helicopter has landed in the possible accident area after tracking the phone of the captain of Nepal Telecom,” Thakur said.
“We have also sent Nepalese army and police personnel on foot to search,” he added.
Chief District Officer of Myagdi Chiranjibi Rana told The Kathmandu Post newspaper that bad weather has hampered searches at the spot where the plane was last seen by locals.
According to him, locals reported that the plane made two circles near Khaibang and headed for Kiti Danda at Lete Pass (2,500 m).
“A police team has been mobilized to the site. The site is a 12-hour walk from Lete,” he said. “There are no human settlements in the area where the locals last saw the plane.” “As soon as the weather improves, the helicopter will start air operations,” Rana said.
A helicopter that flew from Pokhara earlier in the day in search of the missing plane returned unsuccessfully due to bad weather.
Home Affairs Minister Bal Krishna Khand has ordered authorities to intensify the search for the missing plane.
Mustang Chief District Officer Netra Prasad Sharma said that following the instruction of the interior minister, security officials from five districts adjacent to Dhaulagiri Peak have been urged to remain vigilant.
The plane was last tracked as it turned toward Dhaulagiri peak, officials said.
A Nepalese Army MI-17 helicopter has also been sent to Lete from Kathmandu to assist in the search.
Tara Air is the newest and largest airline service provider in the Nepalese mountains, according to the airline’s website. It started in 2009 with the mission to help develop rural Nepal.
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