The Tara Air Viking 9N-AHH Twin Otter had taken off from the western Nepali tourist resort of Pokhara at 7.47 a.m. for Jomsom from where trekkers usually commence their hike.
Deputy director of Pokhara airport Yogendra Kumar told IANS that the plane, which carried 20 passengers besides a three-member crew, lost contact with the air traffic control (ATC) within minutes of taking off.
The passengers included two infants and two foreign nationals, Kumar said.
The plane remained missing for nearly four hours after losing contact with the Pokhara ATC and its wreckage was found scattered over a forested mountainside in Soli Ghoptebhir of Myagdi district, Civil Aviation Minister Ananda Prasad Pokhrel told news men in Kathmandu.
Citing Nepal Army rescue teams which had reached the crash site, Pokhrel said: “The plane has crashed and all its occupants have been killed.”
Located 200 km west of capital Kathmandu, Pokhara is the second largest city of Nepal. It is a popular tourist destination and the kick-off point for climbing expeditions to the 8,091-metre Mt Annapurna.
Jomsom too is the starting point for many trekkers in the Himalayas.
The aircraft was added to the Tara Air fleet last September. Among the occupants were a Chinese national and a Kuwaiti and the others were Nepali nationals, BBC reported.
Army spokesperson Brigadier General Tara Bahadur Karki confirmed that all 23 people aboard the plane were killed in the crash. Karki said a Nepal Army team had reached the crash site and located the wing and tail section of the plane, the Kathmandu Post said.
The plane’s wreckage was found after four hours of intense search and rescue operation. Eyewitnesses said the debris of the plane were scattered over a large area and the aircraft was still burning, the report added.
One local said the weather at the site was extremely cold and the area was likely to get rainfall.
Police constable Phool Kumar Thapa Magar who was among the first to reach the crash site said it was situated on a very treacherous terrain and the debris of the plane were scattered over an area of some 200 metres.
“No one has been found alive,” Myagdi district Deputy Superintendent of Police Bishwa Raj Khadka said, adding that it was difficult to identify the bodies due to the raging fire at the site.
Two helicopters sent for the rescue bid were unable to land due to dense fog, he added.
Roshan Manandhar, the pilot of the ill-fated plane, in his final conversation with Pokhara Air Traffic Control, reported that the flight was normal, said Jasoda Subedi, chief air traffic controller at Pokhara airport, the media report added.
“See you back, Ghorepani normal, good day,” were the last words from the captain.
“The weather at Pokhara and Jomsom is fine today (Wednesday). So we have no clue about what went wrong,” said Bhim Raj Rai, media officer at Tara Airlines, soon after the plane was reported missing.
But the areas adjoining the suspected crash site were covered in a cloud of dust on Tuesday following dry landslides in Mt Annapurna South base since Monday night.
The expected flying time for the plane from Pokhara to Jomsom town is approximately 20 minutes.
Over 100 people have died in plane crashes in the Himalayan nation in the past five years. The last crash was on February 16, 2014, when a Nepal Airlines Twin Otter crashed in Masinelek, Argakhanchi, killing 18 people.
At least 15 people were killed when an Agni Air plane carrying Indian pilgrims crashed on May 14, 2012, near the treacherous high-altitude airport of Jomsom in northern Nepal, while six made a miraculous escape, the Kathmandu post said.