Nepal plane with 22 on board goes missing near mountainous region

Tara Air flight was carrying 19 passengers and three crew members

A small propller aircraft belonging to Tara Air on The runway at Tenzing Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal. (Photo by: Loop Images/UIG via Getty Images)
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A passenger plane heading to a mountainous area of Nepal went missing on Sunday with 22 people on board.

A spokesman for Tara Air said the plane was travelling from Pokhara, about 125 kilometres west of the capital Kathmandu, to Jomsom, about 80km to the north-west.

Jomsom is a popular trekking destination in the Himalayas about 20 minutes by plane from Pokhara.

The airline said the plane was carrying four Indians, two Germans and 16 Nepalis, including three crew. Seven of the passengers were women, it said.

The plane lost contact with the control tower five minutes before it was due to land at Jomsom, according to an airline official.

On Sunday evening, rescue workers paused their search for the plane as weather conditions deteriorated. The search will resume on Monday at dawn with more resources, the Nepalese army said.

"We will also resume the search operation from our helicopter tomorrow morning once the weather is clear," Baburam Shrestha, a military official, told AFP.

Tara Air mainly flies Canadian-built Twin Otter turboprop planes.

Phanindra Mani Pokharel, a spokesman at the Ministry of Home Affairs, said two helicopters were searching for the plane but visibility was low.

"The bad weather is likely to hamper the search operation," he said. "The visibility is so poor that nothing can be seen."

Police official Prem Kumar Dani said a land rescue-and-search team had been sent to the area near Mount Dhaulagiri, the world's seventh-highest peak at 8,167 metres.

Mountains near Pokhara, Nepal, from where the missing aircraft took off off for Jomsom, a popular destination for trekkers. AP

Nepal's aviation industry has boomed in recent years, flying tourists, trekkers and climbers, as well as goods, to remote corners where road access is limited.

But the impoverished Himalayan nation has a poor air safety record due to insufficient training and maintenance.

The European Union has banned all Nepali airlines from its air space over safety concerns.

Nepal also has some of the world's most remote and tricky runways, flanked by snow-capped peaks with approaches that pose a challenge even for accomplished pilots.

In March 2018, a US-Bangla Airlines plane crashed near Kathmandu's international airport, killing 51 people.

The next year three people were killed when a plane veered off the runway and hit two helicopters while taking off near Mount Everest.

The accident happened at Lukla airport, the main gateway to the Everest region and reputed to be one of the most difficult in the world for landings and take-offs.

Also in 2019, Nepal's Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari was among seven people killed when a helicopter crashed in the country's hilly east.

This month Nepal's second international airport opened at Bhairahawa, aiming to provide Buddhist pilgrims from across Asia with access to Buddha's birthplace at nearby Lumbini.

The $76 million project is expected to ease pressure on the overburdened Kathmandu airport.

With reporting from agencies.

Updated: May 30, 2022, 8:22 AM