Nepal plane crash kills 15; six survive

A small plane with 21 people aboard crashed in Nepal, killing 15, including the pilot and co-pilot
NEW DELHI -- A small plane with 21 people aboard crashed in Nepal on Monday morning, killing 15, including the pilot and co-pilot. The accident, involving a Dornier 228 aircraft operated by Agni Air, occurred near Jomsom Airport about 125 miles northwest of Kathmandu. 

The charter flight from the city of Pokhara to Jomsom carried 16 Indian tourists, two Danish tourists and three Nepali crew members. Two Indian children, ages 6 and 9, and their 45-year-old male Indian relative, all with the surname Kidambi, survived and were listed in serious or critical condition, along with a Danish man and woman who were not immediately identified and a flight attendant, according to the Indian and Danish embassies in Katmandu.

The survivors were flown by helicopter to nearby Pokhara and admitted to the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, according to Apoorva Srivastava, an Indian Embassy official.

Narayan Dattakoti, a deputy inspector general of police, told reporters that early indications were that the aircraft was in good condition, although the terrain was challenging and the winds a bit stronger than usual. An investigation has been launched, he said.

The crash of the 11-year old aircraft reportedly occurred as the pilot was attempting a landing at the high-altitude Jomsom Airport, a gateway for trekkers and religious pilgrims.

The fuselage reportedly broke into pieces, although it did not catch fire. "The captain made a left turn and crashed into the mountain," Dattakoti said.

Nepal's prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, offered his condolences in a statement.

Impoverished Nepal with its weak regulatory structure, challenging topography and fast-building storms, has seen several aviation accidents in recent years, most involving small aircraft. Fly-around tours of Mt. Everest and other top Himalayan peaks are popular with tourists.  

Harshwardhan, an aviation expert and former Air India pilot who uses only one name, said the fact that the airplane crashed into a mountain tends to point to some sort of pilot error. "We're seeing too many accidents of a similar nature in a short period of time," he said.

A fundamental problem in India and Nepal is that bureaucrats tend to oversee civil aviation rather than independent safety boards, said M.R. Wadia, former president of the Mumbai-based Federation of Indian Pilots, an industry group.

In August 2010, a Dornier 228 operated by Agni Air crashed 20 minutes south of Katmandu in bad weather, killing 14 people, including four Americans, a Japanese and a British national. And in September 2011, a Buddha Air plane ferrying tourists on a sightseeing trip around Mt. Everest crashed, killing all 19 people on board.


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Photo: Nepalese army soldiers transport a survivor to the city of Pokhara after an Agni Air plane crashed Monday near Jomsom Airport, killing 15 people and injuring six. Credit: Krishnamani Baral / Associated Press

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Nepal reaches interim deal with former Maoist rebels

REPORTING FROM KATMANDU, NEPAL -- Nepal took a step closer toward a comprehensive peace deal with an agreement forged to integrate about 6,500 former Maoist fighters into the nation’s armed forces and offer compensation packages to the rest.

In a seven-point deal, the Himalayan nation’s four major political parties late Tuesday also agreed to complete the stalled peace process within a month, hand over property seized during the civil war and prepare a draft constitution.

“I’m optimistic,” said Anagha Neelakantan, Katmandu-based senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, which carries out independent analyses. “It contains specifics, unlike previous agreements. It’s also broad-based, with a range of political parties signing on.”

Figuring out what to do with more than 19,000 former fighters, many poorly educated with few marketable skills, has been a major stumbling block since the Maoists ended their armed struggle in 2006.

Many in the army have resisted the introduction of their former enemy into their ranks, citing the Maoists’ lack of military discipline, although a bridge training program lasting up to two years should address some of those concerns.

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Nepal's key parties agree to restart peace process


Leaders of Nepal's main political parties have agreed to reignite a stagnant peace process that ended years of insurgency in 2006, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The agreement calls for 6,500 former Maoist rebels, who have been living in camps since the end of the rebellion, to be integrated into the national army and used for noncombat duties such as construction and emergency response, the news service said.

The remaining former fighters would be offered a chance at rehabilitation that would include receiving the equivalent of $11,500 in cash to help jump-start their new lives. The parties also agreed to collaborate on writing a new constitution, the first draft of which is expected to be ready in month, the news agency reported.

The Maoists waged a decade-long armed revolt before joining the peace process five years ago, but it remained stalled largely because of disagreement over the fate of the former rebel fighters.


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NEPAL: Plane carrying tourists to Mt. Everest crashes; 19 killed


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.

Photos: Nepal plane crash

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.

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