REPORTING FROM KATMANDU, NEPAL, AND NEW DELHI -- Two Americans were among 19 people killed Sunday when a small plane carrying tourists to see Mt. Everest crashed in Nepal as it tried to land in rain and dense fog, police said.
The Beechcraft 1900D aircraft operated by Buddha Air went down in Kotdanda about 10 miles from the capital, Katmandu, killing all aboard minutes before its scheduled return to Tribhuvan International Airport. Eyewitness Haribol Poudel told the local Avenues Television network that the plane appeared to slam into the roof of a house.
Buddha Air identified the two Americans killed as Andrew Wade and Natalie Neilan. No other details were immediately available.
The airline said the rest of the passengers included 10 Indians -- many reportedly from the southern state of Tamil Nadu -- three Nepali and one Japanese. The two dead pilots and one air hostess were all Nepali. The early morning flight reportedly had its last contact with air traffic controllers at 7:31 a.m. Officials said 18 of those aboard died immediately and one died on the way to the hospital.
The aircraft was just returning from a one-hour morning flight to view the world’s tallest mountains, a service popular with tourists and trekkers. Civil Aviation Authority Nepal said it had formed a three-member investigation team headed by a former director of the authority to conduct an inquiry of the accident.
Kapil Kaul, an expert with the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation in New Delhi, said Beechcraft planes -– manufactured by Raytheon -- have a good reputation. But, as is always the case, a great deal depends on training, the conditions they’re flown in and how well they’re maintained, he said.
While it’s too early to speculate on the cause, Kaul said, in general, aviation safety in Nepal is a concern. Many foreign tourists don’t appreciate this, he added, assuming the landlocked mountain nation maintains the same standards they enjoy at home.
“I’m not sure Nepal has the resources to invest or the technical ability within the government to ensure the system is safe,” he said. “Those who use mountain flights take for granted that the airline and the system are safe.”
-- Rajneesh Bhandari and Mark Magnier
Photo: Rescue workers remove a body from the crash site in the mountains outside Bisankunarayan village in Nepal. Credit: Niranjan Shrestha / Associated Press