KATMANDU: A plane carrying trekkers to the Everest region crashed and burned just after takeoff Friday morning in Nepal's capital, killing the 19 Nepali, British and Chinese people on board, authorities said.
The pilot of the domestic Sita Air flight reported trouble two minutes after takeoff, and Katmandu airport official Ratish Chandra Suman said the pilot appeared to have been trying to turn back. The crash site is only 500 meters (547 yards) from the airport, and the wrecked plane was pointing toward the airport area.
Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the crash and identify the bodies, and Suman said he could not confirm if the plane was already on fire before it crashed. Cellphone video shot by locals showed the front section of the plane was on fire when it first hit the ground and appeared the pilot had attempted to land the plane on open ground beside a river.
The fire quickly spread to the rear, but the tail was still in one piece at the scene near the Manohara River on the southwest edge of Katmandu. Villagers were unable to approach the plane because of the fire and it took some time for firefighters to reach the area and bring the fire under control.
Soldiers and police shifted through the crash wreckage looking for bodies and documents to help identify the victims. Seven passengers were British and five were Chinese; the other four passengers and the three crew members were from Nepal, authorities said.
Large number of local people and security forces gathered at the crash site. The charred bodies were taken by vans to the hospital morgue.
The weather in Katmandu and surrounding areas was clear on Friday morning, and it was one of the first flights to take off from Katmandu's Tribhuwan International Airport. Other flights reported no problems, and the airport operated normally.
The plane was heading for Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest. Thousands of Westerners make treks in the region around the world's highest peak each year. Autumn is considered the best time to trek the foothills of the Himalayan peaks.
The crash follows an avalanche on another Nepal peak Sunday that killed seven foreign climbers and a Nepali guide.