A national day of mourning is under way in Nepal after at least 69 people were killed in a plane crash on Sunday.
Rescue workers rappelled down the 984-foot Seti Gorge in Pokhara to continue the search, after the plane crashed while attempting to land at a newly-opened airport.
A spokesman for Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder have been retrieved from the site.
At least 69 of the 72 people aboard the Yeti Airlines flight from the capital Kathmandu to Pokhara were killed, and officials believe the three missing people are also dead.
It remains unclear what caused the crash, the Himalayan country’s deadliest air accident in three decades.
After the plane crashed, red flames erupted and the ground shook violently, like an earthquake
A witness who recorded footage of the plane’s descent from his balcony said he saw the plane flying low before it suddenly veered to its left. “I saw that and I was shocked,” said Diwas Bohora.
After it crashed, red flames erupted and the ground shook violently, like an earthquake, Mr Bohora said. “Seeing that scene, I was scared,” he added.
Another witness, Gaurav Gurung, said he saw the aircraft spinning violently in the air after it began descending to land, as he watched from the terrace of his house. Finally, he said, the plane fell nose-first towards its left and crashed into the gorge.
Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said the aircraft last made contact with the airport from near Seti Gorge at 10.50am (5.05am Irish time) on Sunday before crashing.
The twin-engined ATR 72 aircraft, operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines, was competing the 27-minute flight from the capital, to Pokhara, 125 miles west.
It was carrying 68 passengers, including 15 foreign nationals, as well as four crew members, Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement. The foreigners included five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from the UK, Australia, Argentina and France.
A passenger who was described as Irish by Nepalese authorities is a UK national, it has been confirmed.
The man has been named as Ruan Calum Crighton. His was among the names of passengers published by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, where his nationality was listed as Irish. It is understood he was travelling on a UK passport.
The bodies of foreigners and those who have not yet been identified will be sent to Kathmandu for further investigation
A spokesman for Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The Department of Foreign Affairs can confirm that an individual indicated in reports as being Irish is a UK national. The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is providing consular support.
“Our deepest sympathies go to all those who have been affected by this tragic plane crash.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said 41 people have been identified. Gyan Khadka, a police spokesperson in the district, said the bodies would be handed over to family after officials finish postmortem reports.
The bodies are being kept in the Pokhara Academy of Health and Science, Western Hospital.
The bodies of foreigners and those who have not yet been identified will be sent to Kathmandu for further investigation.
On Sunday, Twitter was awash with images that showed plumes of smoke billowing from the crash site, about a mile away from Pokhara International Airport. The aircraft’s fuselage was split into multiple parts that were scattered down the gorge.#
The incident was tragic. The full force of the Nepali army and police has been deployed for rescue
Hours after dark, scores of onlookers remained crowded around the crash site near the airport in the resort town of Pokhara as rescue workers combed the wreckage on the edge of the cliff and in the ravine below.
At Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, family members appeared distraught as they waited for information.
Prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal rushed to the airport after the crash and set up a panel to investigate the accident.
“The incident was tragic. The full force of the Nepali army, police has been deployed for rescue,” he said.
Sunday’s crash is Nepal’s deadliest since 1992, when all 167 people aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane were killed when it ploughed into a hill while trying to land in Kathmandu.
The European Union has banned airlines from Nepal from flying into the 27-nation bloc since 2013, citing weak safety standards.
In 2017, the International Civil Aviation Organisation cited improvements in Nepal’s aviation sector, but the EU continues to demand administrative reforms.
* In an earlier version of this story it was stated that one passenger missing following the plane crash in Nepal, Ruan Callum Crighton, was an Irish citizen. The Department of Foreign affairs has since clarified that he is a UK national, travelling on a UK passport.
– AP. Additional reporting: PA