The chief rescuer at Nepal's international airport on Monday blamed human error for a plane crash that killed 16 holidaymakers returning from a tour around Mount Everest at the weekend.
The Buddha Air aircraft carrying 10 Indians, two Americans, a Japanese citizen and three local tourists crashed into a hill in dense fog on Sunday on the outskirts of the capital, killing all on board including three crew.
Bimlesh Lal Karna, head of the rescue department at Tribhuvan International Airport, ruled out mechanical failure, saying: "If there was a technical problem, there should have been some hint of it."
"The plane had already flown for 45 minutes. No problem was noticed during that period. The bad weather prompted the pilot to take the wrong decision," he said.
Buddha Air, the private airline operating the tour, said it had launched its own investigation into the crash of its Beechcraft 1900D plane while a government inquiry team said it would take three months to report on the cause.
The Kathmandu-based airline said it had grounded Monday's flights as a mark of respect.
The remains of the tourists as well as those of the three dead Nepalese flight crew were taken to a Kathmandu hospital for post-mortem examinations and were expected to be released to their families on Monday.
Investigators found the black box flight recorder several hours after the crash.
"We are meeting at the ministry to decide how to proceed ahead. I'm sure we will be able to find out the truth in the given period of three months," said Rajesh Dali, who is heading the government probe.
Buddha Air 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 one-hour flights are popular among tourists, and several companies offer daily trips to view the 8,848 metre (29,029 feet) Everest summit.
Industry insiders have speculated that the pilot of Sunday's tour may have lost control after deciding to fly below the dense cloud line minutes before he was due to land.
Several local media reports suggested the pilot had descended to 5,400 feet (1,500 metres) at a point where the minimum safe altitude was at least 1,000 feet higher.
Aviation expert Hemant Arjyal said the pilot would not have deliberately put his passengers in danger, but he might have made a mistake while attempting to fly below the cloud line using only his eyes for guidance.
"He had the option of following instrumental flying rules in which he wouldn't have had to rely on the naked eye. He was following quite a normal approach but he went too close to the hill," he said.
Tourist flights around Everest were launched by government-run Nepal Airlines in 1969.
by Deepak Adhikari
(c) 2011 AFP
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