Poor weather impeded a search operation for a passenger jet with 22 people on board that went missing in Nepal on Sunday, according to the operating airline and officials.
Nepal’s aviation business has exploded in recent years, transporting goods and people between remote locations, as well as foreign trekkers and climbers. However, it has a bad safety record.
At 9:55 a.m. (0410 GMT), a Tara Air Twin Otter aircraft took off from Pokhara, Nepal, destined for Jomsom, but air traffic control lost touch after 15 minutes.
“We are trying to locate the possible area where the aircraft might be,” Sudarshan Bartaula, spokesman for Tara Air, told AFP.
“Search and rescue teams from both the police and the army are heading towards that direction.”
There were 19 passengers and three crew members on board, he said. Two Germans and four Indians were among the passengers, with the rest being Nepali.
Jomsom is a popular Himalayan trekking destination about 20 minutes by plane from Pokhara, which is 200 kilometers (120 miles) west of Kathmandu.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs, Phanindra Mani Pokharel, said two helicopters had been dispatched for the search.
However, he claimed that visibility was poor.
“The bad weather is likely to hamper the search operation. The visibility is so poor that nothing can be seen,” Pokharel said.
Inadequate training and maintenance have long plagued Nepal’s aviation industry, resulting in poor safety.
Due to safety concerns, the European Union has prohibited all Nepali airlines from flying in its territory.
The Himalayan country also contains some of the world’s most remote and difficult runways, which are flanked by snow-capped peaks and have approaches that even experienced pilots find difficult.
In the highlands, the weather can change suddenly, resulting in hazardous flying conditions.