A small plane taking tourists on a sightseeing trip around Mount Everest crashed into a hillside near the Nepalese capital Kathmandu on Sunday, killing all 19 people on board.
The Buddha Air Beechcraft plane, carrying 10 Indians, two Americans, one Japanese citizen and three local passengers, came down in heavy rain and fog at Godavari, about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Kathmandu.
The three Nepalese crew also died in the accident as the plane smashed into wooded slopes, leaving the fuselage broken into several pieces.
"All 19 people have died. The Buddha Air-103 was returning from a mountain flight when it crashed into Kotdada Hill," Bimlesh Lal Karna, head of the rescue department at Tribhuwan International Airport, told AFP.
Police spokesman Binod Singh said one person initially survived the crash but died in hospital.
"The rescue efforts have been hampered by heavy rain," he added, confirming the nationalities of the passengers.
Airport authorities on the ground lost contact with the plane at 7:30 am and it crashed minutes later.
"When we reached the crash site, we found the dead bodies scattered within 25 metres (yards) of the site which is surrounded by trees," Dip Shamsher Rana, a police officer who took part in the rescue, told AFP.
"The nearest road is 50 metres away. There were mangled remains of the aircraft which was broken into several pieces."
Witnesses told local television stations how the plane burst into flames on impact.
"The plane was flying very low. We were surprised. It crashed into the hill and there was a huge explosion," one man told the Avenues Television news channel.
Investigators scouring the accident site found the black box flight recorder several hours after the crash, and police said a probe was underway to establish the cause of the accident.
Buddha Air, a private airline based in Kathmandu, said it had initiated an internal investigation into the crash.
"We are deeply grieved by this unimaginable and unfortunate incident and pray for eternal peace of the departed souls," the airline said.
The company offers a 8,240 rupee ($140) "Everest Experience" package, taking tourists from Kathmandu and flying them around the world's tallest mountain and surrounding peaks.
The Buddha Air website describes the Beechcraft as the "safest plane operating in the domestic sector".
It adds that early morning flights are scheduled to take advantage of better weather conditions before winds blow up snow plumes that can obscure the Himalayan panorama.
The one-hour flights are popular among tourists, and several companies offer daily trips to view the 8,848 metres (29,029 feet) Everest summit.
Aviation accidents are relatively common in Nepal, particularly during the summer monsoon when visibility is often poor.
In December last year, a Twin Otter plane carrying three crew and 19 passengers smashed into a mountainside shortly after taking off from a small airstrip 140 kilometres east of Kathmandu.
The passengers were mostly Bhutanese citizens on a religious tour of Nepal and had chartered the Tara Air plane to take them to a Buddhist holy site in the area.
In November last year a helicopter crashed near Mount Everest during a mission to rescue two stranded climbers, killing the pilot and an engineer.
Three months earlier, a plane headed for the Everest region crashed in bad weather killing all 14 people on board, including four Americans, a Japanese and a British national.
Nepal has only a limited road network and many communities in the mountains and hills are accessible only on foot or by air.
by Deepak Adhikari
(c) 2011 AFP
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