SEVEN Britons on a trekking holiday to the foothills of Mount Everest are among 19 killed in a devastating plane crash in Nepal.
Witnesses described hearing the screams of passengers and seeing flames coming from one of the plane’s wings moments before it smashed into the ground. The twin-engine propeller plane is believed to have hit a bird and crashed shortly after take-off near Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, authorities said.
The British victims were named as Raymond Eagle, 58, Christopher Davey, 51, Vincent Kelly, 50, Darren Kelly, 45, Timothy Oakes, 57, Stephen Holding, 60, and Benjamin Ogden, 27.
Mr Ogden, the youngest victim, was a Oxford University graduate and recently qualified lawyer who lived in London. A statement from his employers, international law firm Allen & Overy, said: “Everyone at Allen & Overy is deeply shocked and saddened by the news.
“As well as being an excellent lawyer, Ben was a very popular member of the firm. Ben will be deeply missed by all who knew him.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said the families of the victims have all been informed.
The Brit tourists were killed along with their Nepalese tour guide, five Chinese people, as well as two passengers and four crew members from Nepal.
Explore Worldwide said seven of the passengers on the plane had organised their trips through the adventure travel company based in Farnborough, Hants. Their Nepalese tour guide was also on the flight. Ashley Toft, Explore’s Managing Director, said: “We are devastated by this news. Our thoughts are very much with the families of those affected, both in the UK and in Nepal.
“The basic facts are that Sita Air operates scheduled flights and is approved by airline authorities. The weather was good. The plane was departing for Lukla and our passengers were heading for Everest Base Camp at the start of their trek.”
Speaking during his visit to Brazil, PM David Cameron said: “It is an absolutely horrific incident and obviously I feel for the families concerned. I know our ambassador in Nepal is on the case and on the spot dealing with it. Obviously we will have to find out exactly what happened. It is a deeply, deeply tragic case.”
Although the exact cause of the crash was still unclear, the manager of Tribhuvan International Airport Ratish Chandra Lal Suman said the pilot had reported hitting a bird moments before the tragedy. Mr Suman said: “Immediately after the take-off, the air traffic controllers noticed the aircraft making unusual manoeuvres. When the traffic controller asked the pilot about it, he said the plane had struck a bird.”
The plane, belonging to Nepal’s domestic airline Sita Air, was heading east towards Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest and a popular destination for trekkers. It crashed near the Manohara River to the south west of the city. Weather in Kathmandu was clear at the time.
The pilot reported trouble two minutes after take-off, and Kathmandu airport official Ratish Chandra Suman said the plane appeared to have been trying to turn back to the airport. The airport’s police chief, Narayan Bastakoti, said firefighters brought the blaze in the wreckage under control and police rescuers were trying to pull out the bodies.
Thousands of Westerners head to the Himalayas every year to trek in the region around Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. Autumn is considered the best time to trek in the area.
The crash follows an avalanche on another Nepal peak on Sunday that killed seven foreign climbers and a Nepali guide.
Footage taken by witnesses using mobile phones showed the front section of the plane was on fire when it first hit the ground, and that it appeared the pilot had attempted to land on open ground beside a river. The fire quickly spread to the rear, but the tail was still in one piece at the crash site, reported to be near a slum about 500m from Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport.
Villagers were unable to approach the plane because of the fire and it took some time for firefighters to reach the area and bring the blaze under control.
Soldiers and police sifted through the crash wreckage looking for bodies and documents to help identify the victims. A number of badly burned bodies were laid in a line a few metres from the craft’s shattered fuselage, as a large crowd of shocked bystanders looked on. Bodies were taken by vans to the city’s hospital morgue.
The flight was one of the first to take off from Kathmandu’s airport, and departed at about 6.15am local time. Other flights reported no problems and the airport was operating normally.
The British ambassador to Nepal, John Tucknott, told Sky News: “Regretfully all those on board perished. Our thoughts at the moment are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives.”
Tulasha Pokharel, a 26-year-old woman who lives near the crash site, said she was among the first on the scene. She said: “We could hear people inside the aircraft screaming, but we couldn’t throw water at the plane to put out the fire because we were scared that the engines were about to explode.
“The pilot tried his best to make an emergency landing. If he had managed it, then we could have rescued some of the passengers.”
It was the sixth fatal air crash in Nepal in the last two years, with 76 lives lost in that period before Friday, raising fresh questions about the safety record of the country’s numerous small airlines.
In May, 15 people were killed when a small Agni Air plane taking tourists to a treacherous high-altitude airport near Nepal’s Annapurna mountain region ploughed into the ground. 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.
(Jack Losh, The Sun online)