Black boxes found as Nepal mourns deadly air disaster

Officials believe all 72 people who were on board the Yeti Airlines flight died in the crash

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Search teams in Nepal have found the aircraft black boxes that could help reveal what caused a Yeti Airlines flight to crash in Pokhara and kill at least 69 of those on board.

The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder of the ATR-72 plane were discovered on Monday.

At least 69 of the 72 people aboard were killed in one of the tiny Himalayan country's deadliest air disasters.

Late on Monday, authorities called off the search operation for those still missing, saying it would resume on Tuesday morning.

But officials believe the three missing are also dead, AP reported.

The Yeti Airlines flight from Kathmandu, carrying 68 passengers and four crew members, crashed minutes before it was due to land at Pokhara's international airport on Sunday morning.

The plane plunged into a 300-metre-deep gorge between Pokhara’s old airport and its new international airport and “broke into pieces”, officials told The National.

Teknath Sitaula, a spokesman for Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport, who travelled to Pokhara after the crash, said the black boxes “are in a good condition now. They look good from the outside”.

“Rescue is not yet concluded, 67 bodies recovered so far. Rescue is ongoing, five bodies are yet to be recovered.

“We have sent the recovered bodies for postmortem and other processes and, once identified, they will be handed over to their families,” he said.

Local residents were the first on the scene after hearing an explosion and seeing plumes of smoke from the crash site, followed by teams of army personnel.

“I was walking when I heard a loud blast, like a bomb went off,” said Arun Tamu, 44, who live-streamed a video of the blazing wreckage on social media.

“A few of us rushed to see if we could rescue anybody. I saw at least two women were breathing. The fire was getting very intense and it made it difficult for us to approach closer,” the former soldier told AFP.

Bishnu Tiwari told the Associated Press: “The flames were so hot that we couldn’t go near the wreckage. I heard a man crying for help, but because of the flames and smoke we couldn’t help him.”

There were 57 Nepalese and 15 foreigners, including five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France, on the flight.

Rescuers recover the body of a victim from the site of the plane crash.  Reuters

Nepal declared a day of mourning on Monday and set up a panel to investigate the tragedy and suggest measures to improve air safety.

The plane's France-based manufacturer ATR said its specialists were supporting the investigation.

Condolences poured in from around the world.

The UAE offered its condolences to the Nepali government, “people and to the families of the victims as well as its wishes for a speedy recovery for the injured,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation said.

The crash is Nepal's deadliest since March 2018, when 51 people died in a crash-landing near Kathmandu's international airport.

People weep at a hospital receiving bodies of victims of the plane crash in Pokhara, Nepal, on Sunday. AP

Plane crashes are common in Nepal, which has a poor flight safety record and infrastructure.

Yeti Airlines is the country's second-largest carrier after Buddha Air. In 2018, it was voted one of the world's worst airlines.

Nepali airlines have been banned from European Union airspace since 2013, after eight Britons were killed in a Kathmandu plane crash.

Nepal’s airports are difficult to land in, and the mountainous terrain can create hazardous weather.

In May, 22 people died when a plane crashed in a mountainous area after departing from Pokhara.

That crash prompted authorities to tighten regulations, including clearing flights for take-off only if there was favourable weather forecast throughout the route.

That accident was Nepal's deadliest since 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane died when it crashed on approach to Kathmandu.

Updated: January 18, 2023, 10:01 AM