KATHMANDU: A passenger jet carrying 19 people, mainly foreigners, towards an airport in the shadow of Mount Everest crashed on Friday on the outskirts of the Nepalese capital, police said, killing everyone on board.
The Sita Air craft had just taken off from Kathmandu airport and was headed to the small town of Lukla, a gateway to Everest, when it plunged towards a river on the outskirts of the city.
“All 19 passengers of the Sita Air plane have died. The accident site is less than one kilometre (half a mile) from the airport,” said Nepal Police spokesman Binod Singh.
“The pilots seem to have tried to land it safely on the banks of the river but unfortunately the plane caught fire.” Singh said the plane, carrying mainly foreigners and three local crew, plunged into the banks of the Manohara River early in the morning.
“There are four Nepalis among the dead, apart from the crew. The majority of the dead are foreigners from Western countries,” he said.
Dozens of army personnel had arrived at the crash site, said Nepalese army spokesman Ramindra Chhetri, and were battling to bring the blaze under control.
“I was just walking and saw a plane landing. It was caught in fire and I even heard people inside the plane screaming,” a witness told Kantipur Television.
Another witness said he saw half burned bodies near the crash site, a slum settlement.
Nepal has a poor road network and large numbers of tourists, pilgrims and professional climbers often rely on the country's 16 domestic airlines and 49 airports to reach remote areas.
The latest fatal crash in Nepal — the sixth in less than two years — could potentially lead to new scrutiny of the country's numerous small airlines, which provide vital links to remote parts of the country.
Aircraft and pilots often have to contend with bad weather and difficult landing strips in the Himalayan nation.
In another recent accident in Nepal, a small Agni Air plane taking tourists to a treacherous high-altitude airport near the Annapurna mountain region ploughed into the ground, killing 15 people on board.
In September last year a small plane taking tourists on a sightseeing trip around Everest crashed into a hillside near the Nepalese Kathmandu, also killing all 19 people on board.
The Buddha Air Beechcraft plane, carrying 10 Indians, two Americans, one Japanese citizen and three local passengers, came down in heavy rain and fog at Godavari, about 10 kilometres from the capital.