The cause of the crash was not immediately clear. According to Nepal’s civil aviation authorities, the flight’s commanding pilot last made contact with a nearby air traffic control tower at 10:50 a.m. The plane crashed as it approached to land at Pokhara Airport, Yeti Airlines spokesperson Sudarshan Bartaula said.
Photographs from the scene appeared to show the aircraft split into pieces. Broken chunks of the plane’s fuselage — with its identifying airline colors visible — lay distorted on the floor of a gorge thick with smoke, surrounded by a large rescue operation.
According to an airline statement, 53 Nepali nationals and 15 foreign nationals were on the flight, including five from India, four from Russia, two from South Korea, one from Argentina, one from Australia, one from France and one from Ireland.
There were at least six children on the flight, according to a passenger list shared by the country’s civil aviation authority.
Police, army, fire and airport rescue services were taking part in the response at the crash site, according to a statement from Yeti Airlines, which identified the downed aircraft as an ATR 72. Nepal’s Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Ministry also announced the creation of a commission to investigate the crash. Nepal’s civil aviation authority said in a statement that two helicopters had also been deployed to the scene of the crash.
“I am speechless about the crash,” Nepali President Bidya Devi Bhandari wrote on Twitter. “I convey my heartfelt condolences to the passengers and the crew members who lost their lives and express my deep sympathy for the family members for their losses.”
ATR, which manufactures turboprop engine aircraft and is based in France, tweeted that the accident involved an ATR 72-500 and that its specialists were “fully engaged” to support the investigation into the crash. “Our first thoughts are with all the individuals affected by this,” the company tweeted. According ATR’s website, the manufacturer’s 72-500 model can seat 68 passengers and has a range of 888 miles. ATR did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Sunday.
It was Nepal’s second plane crash in the past year and Pokhara Airport’s first crash since it opened on Jan. 1.
Following a meeting of his cabinet, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal declared that Monday would be observed as a national holiday to mourn the victims.
In May, 22 people, including six foreign nationals, died after a flight operated by Tara Air — a subsidiary of Yeti Airlines — crashed into the Himalayan mountainside after departing from Pokhara’s old airport, prompting the government to launch an investigation. The plane was headed for the tourist town of Jomsom on what was projected to be about a 20-minute flight.
Sunday’s crash was Nepal’s deadliest since a pair 30 years ago, according to a database kept by the Airline Safety Network. In 1992, 167 people died when a Pakistani airliner crashed into a rugged Himalayan hill attempting to land at a Kathmandu airport in a rainstorm. Two months before, a Thai Airways flight also crashed in heavy rain — killing 113 people, including 11 Americans.
The European Union includes all Nepali airlines on its Air Safety List, meaning E.U. officials do not consider them up to international safety standards and they are prohibited from operating in Europe.