Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) — At least 68 people were killed when a plane crashed near the central Nepalese city of Pokhara on Sunday, a government official said, in the country’s worst plane crash in more than 30 years.
Seventy-two people — four crew and 68 passengers — were on board when the ATR-72, operated by Nepal’s Eti Airlines, crashed, Eti Airlines spokesman Sudarsan Bardaula said. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said there were 37 men, 25 women, three infants and three children.
Rescue workers are still working to find the last eight passengers, but have “lost hope” that they will be alive, Phanidra Mani Pokharel, undersecretary of Nepal’s interior ministry, told CNN. A local official had earlier expressed hope that some survivors could be found.
At least one child was among the dead, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
According to data from the Aviation Safety Network, Sunday’s incident was the third worst in the Himalayan nation’s history. July and September 1992 saw the highest number of casualties. Thai Airways and Pakistan International Airlines lost 113 and 167 lives respectively in those crashes.
The Civil Aviation Authority said 53 passengers and four crew members were Nepalis. There were 15 foreigners on board: five from India, four from Russia and two from Korea. The rest are individual citizens of Australia, Argentina, France and Ireland.
The plane flew from the capital Kathmandu to Pokhara, the country’s second most populous city, the country’s state media The Rising Nepal reported. Bokahara is located 129 kilometers (80 mi) west of Kathmandu.
About 18 minutes after take-off, the flight made its last contact with Pokhara airport at around 10:50 am local time. It then plunged into a valley near the Seti River. Civil aviation authorities said in a statement that the Nepal Army and various police departments have been deployed at the site of the crash and are engaged in rescue operations.
Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said he was “deeply saddened by the sad and tragic accident”.
“I earnestly call on the security personnel, all agencies of the Government of Nepal and the public to start effective rescue operations,” Dahl said on Twitter.
Nepal’s Eti Airlines has canceled all flights scheduled for Monday, January 16, to mourn the victims of the plane crash.
8 of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest in Nepal, have recorded plane crashes. Its climate can change suddenly and airstrips are usually located in mountainous areas that are difficult to access.
Last May, a Tara Air flight with 22 people on board crashed into a Himalayan mountain at an altitude of about 4,419 meters. It was the country’s 19th plane crash in 10 years and the 10th fatality in the same period, according to the database. Aviation Safety Network.
The plane involved in Sunday’s crash was an ATR 72-500, a twin-prop turbojet mostly used in the Asia-Pacific region, especially on low-cost airlines. Aircraft manufactured by ATR, a joint venture between European airlines Airbus and Leonardo, have earned a good reputation.
However, they have been involved in accidents before. Two ATR 72s operated by the now-defunct Taiwan airline Transia were involved in fatal crashes in July 2014 and February 2015. The second led Taiwanese authorities to temporarily ground all ATR 72s registered on the island.
In total, various models of the ATR 72 were involved in 11 fatal incidents in Nepal before Sunday’s accident. Aviation Safety Network.
Asha Thapa from Kathmandu, Kathleen Makramo wrote in Hong Kong. CNN’s Sugam Pokharel and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.