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Nepal discovers plane black boxes after deadliest crash in 30 years

  • Searchers find the bodies of two of the four missing passengers
  • Rescue efforts were suspended after bad weather hampered the operation
  • Cockpit voices, flight data recorders found in good condition
  • Nepal observes national day of mourning, launches investigation

KATHMANDU, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Researchers on Monday found the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder of a passenger flight that crashed, killing at least 70 people in the worst crash flying in Nepal for 30 years, officials said.

Data from the recorders could help investigators determine what caused the Yeti Airlines ATR 72 plane, carrying 72 people, to crash on a clear day on Sunday just before landing in the tourist town of Pokhara.

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Both recorders were in good condition and will be sent for analysis based on the manufacturer’s recommendation, Teknath Sitaula, an official at Kathmandu airport, told Reuters.

Under international aviation rules, the accident investigation agency of the country where the aircraft was designed and built is automatically part of the investigation.

ATR is based in France and the engines for the aircraft were manufactured in Canada by Pratt & Whitney Canada (RTX.N).

Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority has inspected all ATR 72 and ATR 42 aircraft operating in the country since the crash and found no technical faults, it said in a statement on Monday.

There are currently 16 ATR 72 and three ATR 42 aircraft with several airlines in the country, an aviation authority official said.

Rescuers battled cloudy weather and poor visibility on Monday as they scoured a river gorge in search of missing passengers, more than 24 hours after the crash.

Two more bodies were found on Monday, bringing the death toll to 70, said Navin Acharya, an official with the Kathmandu airport rescue coordination center. The search was called off for the other two missing people as night fell and will resume on Tuesday, he said.

Pokhara Police Chief Ajay KC said all the bodies had been sent to hospital.

In the capital Kathmandu, around 100 people lit candles at a rally in memory of crash victims and called on the government to ensure proper safety standards, witnesses said.

Condolences poured in from around the world, including the Vatican.

“His Holiness Pope Francis sends his condolences to you and to all those affected by this tragedy, as well as his prayers for those involved in the recovery efforts,” Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said in a statement. message to the president of Nepal.

Reuters footage from the crash site showed rescuers looking at the charred remains of the plane near a mountain gorge.

The plane, on a scheduled flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara, gateway to the scenic Annapurna mountain range, was carrying 57 Nepalese, five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans and one person each from Argentina, from Ireland, Australia and France.

The aircraft had been flown more than 1,700 times in the past year.

Minutes before the plane landed on Sunday, the pilot requested a runway change, a Pokhara airport spokesman said on Monday. “Permission has been granted. “We don’t ask (why), every time a pilot asks, we give permission to change approach,” spokesman Anup Joshi said.

Sunday’s accident underscored the need for the government to disband the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), which regulates airlines and manages airports, experts said.

“The government should immediately separate the regulator and the service provider by splitting the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) which is doing both jobs now,” aviation expert KB Limbu told Reuters and retired pilot.

“This leads to a conflict of interest.”

Asked for comment, Sitaula, the Kathmandu airport manager, denied that there was any such conflict in the operation of CAAN.

“The regulatory and service provider (airport management) officials are separate and there is no cross movement between the two bodies operating under the same organisation,” he said, referring at CAAN.

There are nine national airlines in Nepal, including Yeti Airlines and its Tara Air unit. The Yeti and Tara plane crashes have killed at least 165 people in Nepal since 2000 out of a total of 359 fatalities in aviation accidents, according to CAAN data.

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This century, 75 more people have died in helicopter crashes in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 tallest mountains, including Everest, and where sudden changes in weather can create dangerous conditions.

Experts say air crashes are usually caused by a combination of factors and investigations can take months or longer.

Anju Khatiwada, the co-pilot of Sunday’s ill-fated plane, lost her husband Dipak Pokhrel in a similar crash in 2006. Khatiwada’s remains have not been identified but it is feared she is dead.

Nepal observed a national day of mourning on Monday and set up a commission to investigate the disaster and come up with measures to avoid such incidents in the future.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma, writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Shivam Patel; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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