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Nepal plane crash: 70 bodies recovered from wreckage as black box found

Nepalese authorities used drones and rappelled down a 200-metre-deep gorge in search of the unaccounted passengers after two more bodies were recovered, taking the toll in the deadly plane crash to 70.

A Yeti Airlines twin-engine ATR 72 aircraft carrying 68 passengers and four crew members departed from Kathmandu and crashed on approach to Pokhara airport on Sunday.

It was the Himalayan country’s deadliest aviation safety incident in three decades and the third-deadliest crash in its history.

The flight plummeted into a gorge while on approach to land at the newly opened Pokhara International Airport. It “cruised at 12,500 feet and was on a normal descent”, a spokesperson with the airport said.

Search operations were briefly called off on Monday before resuming on Tuesday due to the difficult terrain and weather conditions.

Two bodies remain missing.

"There is thick fog here now. We are sending search and rescue personnel using ropes into the gorge where parts of the plane fell and was in flames," Ajay KC, a police official, told Reuters.

"There were small children among the passengers. Some might have been burnt and died, and may not be found out. We will continue to look for them," he added.

The plane cockpit voice recorder and the black box were recovered in good condition on Monday, which will help the investigators ascertain the cause of the crash, which took place during clear weather conditions.

The cockpit voice recorder would be analysed locally, however, the flight data recorder would be sent to France, said Jagannath Niraula, a spokesperson for Nepal's Civil Aviation Authority.

According to international aviation rules, the crash investigation agencies of the countries where the plane and engines were designed and built are automatically part of the inquiry. ATR is based in France and the plane's engines were manufactured in Canada by Pratt & Whitney Canada.

The French air investigators reportedly visited the site of the crash on Tuesday.

Authorities said they have begun handing over the dead bodies to their kin, but the remains of the foreign nationals and those unidentified will be sent to Kathmandu for further investigation.

Fifteen foreign nationals – five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, a British citizen and each from Australia, Argentina and France – were on the doomed aircraft.

Hundreds of people, including relatives and friends of the victims, gathered outside a local hospital where autopsies are being conducted in Pokhara.

Among the people killed in the crash was a pharmaceutical marketing agent who was returning to with his sister who had given birth and a minister of a Korean religious group who was travelling to the school he founded.

Funerals for victims are expected to be carried out in Pokhara and nearby districts, starting Tuesday evening.

Earlier an eyewitness who saw the plane crash from his balcony recounted that the aircraft was flying dangerously low and close to his home.

Diwas Bohora, a resident of Kaski district, western Nepal, said he witnessed the moment when the plane suddenly veered to its left and came down, shaking the ground violently.

“I saw that and I was shocked – I thought that today everything will be finished here after it crashes, I will also be dead,” he said.

Bikash Basyal, one of the first responders, was outside his home at around 10.30am local time when he saw the aircraft fly above him and suddenly crash. He said he ran towards the scene and attempted to save passengers from the burning wreckage.

“I realised the plane had crashed. I opened the gate and ran towards the site. The plane was on fire,” the local resident was quoted by CNN News 18 as saying.

“I rescued two people, who were alive. But they died in Gandaki Hospital,” he added.

Nearly 350 people have died since 2000 in plane or helicopter crashes in Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest where sudden weather changes can cause hazardous travel conditions.