A Nepalese passenger plane with 22 people on board, including four Indians from Mumbai, went missing on Sunday in the mountainous region of the Himalayan nation minutes after taking off from the tourist city of Pokhara, officials said. The Twin Otter 9N-AET plane belonging to Nepal’s Tara Air took off at 10:15 am from Pokhara, and lost contact with the control tower 15 minutes later, according to an airline spokesperson.
There are four Indian nationals, two Germans and 13 Nepali passengers besides a three-member Nepali crew, said Sudarshan Bartaula, a spokesperson at the airlines. The airline issued the list of passengers which identified four Indians as Ashok Kumar Tripathi, Dhanush Tripathi, Ritika Tripathi, and Vaibhawi Tripathi.
When Mumbai police personnel on Sunday contacted the elder sister of Vaibhavi (Bandekar) Tripathi, who was on board the plane, she requested them not to tell anything about the incident to her mother, saying she was already in a critical condition, an official said.
“The police contacted Vaibhavi’s sister and shared the information with her. But she told our personnel that she had already got in touch with the Indian embassy in Nepal. She then requested the police not to tell anything about the incident to her mother as her health condition is critical,” an official said.
“Tara Air flight 9NAET that took off from Pokhara at 9.55 AM today with 22 people on board, including 4 Indians, has gone missing. A search and rescue operation is on. The embassy is in touch with their family. Our emergency hotline number: +977-9851107021,” the Indian embassy in Nepal tweeted.
The three-member crew of the aircraft was led by Captain Prabhakar Prasad Ghimire. Utsav Pokhrel is the co-pilot while Kismi Thapa is the air hostess, My Republica newspaper reported, quoting Pokhara Airport Information Officer Dev Raj Adhikari.
The aircraft was scheduled to land at Jomsom Airport in the Western mountainous region at 10:15 am. The aircraft lost contact with the tower from the sky above Ghorepani on the Pokhara-Jomsom air route, aviation sources said.
According to an air traffic controller at Jomsom Airport, they have an unconfirmed report about a loud noise in Ghasa of Jomsom. It is suspected that the aircraft crashed in the Dhaulagiri area, the paper quoted DSP Ram Kumar Dani of Mustang as saying.
Meanwhile, a Nepal Army helicopter carrying 10 soldiers and two employees of the civil aviation authority landed on the bank of a river near the Narshang Monastery, the possible site of the crash, Prem Nath Thakur, general manager of the Tribhuvan International Airport, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Interestingly, the airplane was located after Nepal Telecom tracked down the cellphone of the airplane’s pilot Captain Prabhakar Ghimire through the Global Positioning System (GPS) network. “The cell phone of Captain Ghimire of the missing aircraft has been ringing and Nepal Army’s helicopter has landed in the possible accident area after tracking the captain’s phone from Nepal Telecom,” Thakur said. “We have also sent Nepal Army and Nepal Police personnel on foot for the search,” he added.
Chief District Officer of Myagdi Chiranjibi Rana told The Kathmandu Post newspaper that bad weather has hampered the search efforts at the site where the plane was last spotted by the locals. According to him, locals reported that the plane made two circles at Khaibang and headed to Kiti Danda near Lete Pass (2,500m). “A team of police has been mobilised at the site. The site is a 12-hour walk from Lete,” he said. There are no human settlements in the area where locals last spotted the plane.
As soon as the weather improves, the helicopter will begin aerial operations, said Rana. A helicopter that flew from Pokhara in search of the missing aircraft earlier in the day returned without any success due to bad weather.
Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand has directed authorities to intensify the search operations for the missing aircraft. Mustang Chief District Officer Netra Prasad Sharma said that following the instruction from the home minister, security officials of five districts adjoining the Dhaulagiri Peak have been urged to stay alert.
The aircraft was last tracked taking a turn toward the Dhaulagiri Peak, officials said. An MI-17 helicopter of the Nepal Army has also been dispatched from Kathmandu to Lete to help in the search operation.
Tara Air is the newest and biggest airline service provider in the Nepalese mountains, according to the airline website. It started its business in 2009 with the mission of helping develop rural Nepal.