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Deadly crash

Nepalese firefighters and volunteers help put out flames from the wreckage of a crashed Sita Air plane outside Kathmandu, Nepal, today.

Nepal – A plane heading for the Everest region has crashed on the outskirts of Nepal’s capital, killing all 19 people on board including seven British tourists.

The plane, operated by Sita Air, came down minutes after take-off from Kathmandu. Officials said it crashed into a river bank and caught fire.

Sixteen passengers and three crew were on board the twin-propeller Dornier.

The UK Foreign Office has confirmed the British deaths and said relatives have been informed.

As well as the seven Britons, five Chinese nationals and seven Nepali nationals were on the plane, including the three Nepalese crew, police and aviation officials said.

Today’s plane crash has once again drawn international attention to Nepal’s poor air safety record.

The crash is the second this year. Four months ago, 15 people died when an Agni Air plane carrying Indian pilgrims to a Hindu religious site in northern Nepal crashed at a high-altitude airport.

In September last year, another plane on a mountain sight-seeing flight crashed into a hillside near Kathmandu, killing all 19 people on board.

Since 1949 – the year the first aircraft landed in Nepal – there have been more than 70 different crashes involving planes and helicopters, in which more than 650 people have been killed.

While the latest crash appears in part due to exceptional circumstances, critics say that many passenger aircraft in Nepal are often poorly maintained, one of the main reasons for so many crashes.

But critics say that there is also another serious malaise in Nepali aviation – a regulatory body that has consistently failed to prevent airline operators from cutting corners on safety in what is a competitive market.

The British Embassy in Kathmandu said the UK ambassador had gone to Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, where the bodies of those who died had been taken.

The cause of the crash is not yet known. However, the general manager of Tribhuvan International Airport, Ratish Chandra Lal Suman, said it appeared that the plane had struck a bird.

He said air traffic control contacted the pilot after noticing an unusual manoeuvre minutes after take-off and the pilot said his plane had hit a vulture.

Suman said the plane had been attempting to get back to the airport when it crashed.

Nepalese officials later said that the flight recorders had been recovered from the wreckage.

They said initial reports suggested the crash happened as the pilots tried to change direction and land again after suffering “technical glitches”.

Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai promised to take action to prevent similar accidents, but did not give details.

“I am saddened by the death of the locals and foreign nationals in the plane crash. I pay condolences to the families of the dead,” he said. (BBC)

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