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Plane crashes in Nepal; all 21 on board feared dead

Posted at 6:30 AM, Feb 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-24 06:30:56-05

(CNN) — A Tara Air plane carrying 21 people crashed in a mountainous region of northern Nepal, officials said.

Everyone on board is feared dead, Nepali Tourism and Aviation Minister Ananda Pokharel said. He said a few bodies have been found, but are unrecognizable.

The Twin Otter plane took off Wednesday morning from the city of Pokhara. It was scheduled to land in the town of Jomsom, Tara Air spokesman Bhim Rai said.

The total flight time was supposed to be 19 minutes, but contact was lost eight minutes after takeoff.

Residents in Nepal’s Myagdi District saw flames shooting up from a forest and called security officials, Pokharel said. Authorities arrived and found the plane’s wreckage.

The plane was carrying 18 passengers and three crew members, Rai said. The passengers include two foreigners — one Chinese and one Kuwaiti.

The cause of the crash has not been determined.

Rai said the weather Wednesday morning was clear when the plane took off. He said the Twin Otter plane was new, imported from Canada last September.

On its website, Tara Air describes itself as “the newest and biggest airline service provider in the Nepalese mountains,” with seven aircraft in its fleet.

The airline said its mission is to help develop rural Nepal.

Pokhara, where the flight originated, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal. Jomsom is the gateway for one of the most popular Himalayan trekking routes.

Previous crash in same area

The region where the plane crashed is a notoriously windy, cold and mountainous area.

In 2012, an Agni Air plane flying the same route from Pokhara to Jomsom crashed, killing 15 people. Six people survived.

A technical problem prevented that plane from landing normally, said Bindesh Lal Karna of the Rescue Coordination Committee at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.

The pilot decided to turn the plane around and head back to Pokhara, but as he did so, the plane dropped out of the air.