KATHMANDU, Nepal – Rescuers in Nepal’s mountainous west searched on foot for a missing Nepal Airlines plane carrying 18 people, as officials called off a helicopter hunt due to poor visibility.
The plane carrying 15 passengers including an infant and three crew lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the popular tourist town of Pokhara, officials said.
The aircraft from the state-run carrier was traveling to the town of Jumla, 353 kilometres west of Kathmandu, when air traffic controllers lost contact.
It left Pokhara at 1.30pm (local time) and disappeared 15 minutes later, police spokesman Ganesh KC said.
One of the passengers is from Denmark, said airline spokesman Ram Hari Sharma.
The rest of those on board – including Manab Sejuwal, a local politician from the ruling Nepali Congress party – are from Nepal.
More than 150 police are taking part in the search, which was focused on the hilly district of Arghakhanchi, 226km west of the capital, said local official Govinda Panthi.
Heavy rain hampered earlier efforts with two helicopters forced to turn back because of bad weather, said Bimlesh Lal Karna, chief air traffic controller in Kathmandu.
“The weather was not bad at the time the plane went missing … it worsened later on,” Mr Karna said.
“We have now stopped the helicopter search but the search on foot will continue until we find the plane.”
Police fanned out across villages in the remote region, trekking uphill to locate the missing aircraft.
The incident highlights safety concerns about the Himalayan nation’s aircraft.
Nepal, which counts tourism as a major contributor to its economy, has suffered a number of air crashes in recent years, which have usually been attributed to inexperienced pilots, poor management and maintenance.
A Chinese tourist and a local pilot were killed when an ultra-light aircraft crashed into a hill in the tourist town of Pokhara in October.
The European Union in December blacklisted all the country’s airlines, citing their poor safety record, and banned them from flying to the EU.