Plane crash at 'gateway to Himalayas' airport

A plane with 21 people on board has crashed while trying to land at a mountain airstrip near a popular tourist destination in Nepal's northern Himalayas, killing at least 15, authorities said.

Monday's accident happened at Jomsom airport, about 200km northwest of the capital Kathmandu, a gateway to a popular tourism and trekking destination situated more than 2,600m above sea level.

"Fifteen people have been killed. Thirteen of them were Indian tourists and the other two were Nepali pilots," Binod Singh, police spokesman, told AFP news agency on Monday.

"There are six survivors, among them one Nepali air hostess," he added.

Survivors in critical condition were flown by helicopter to a hospital in the nearby city of Pokhara.

The plane hit a mountain while it was turning to land at the airport, Laxmi Raj Sharma, chief government administrator in the area, said, adding initial investigations show that the plane might have suffered technical problems.

The wrecked aircraft was in pieces but did not catch fire.

Nareswor Aryal, a local police official, said the plane carried two pilots and a flight attendant, along with 16 Indians and two Westerners.

Baburam Bhattarai, the prime minister, issued a statement expressing condolences at the deaths of the 15 people.

Aviation accidents common

The passengers had chartered the flight to take them from the central tourist hub of Pokhara to Muktinath, a sacred place for Hindus and Buddhists at the foot of the Thorong La Himalayan mountain pass, said Rajendra Singh Bhandari, Nepal police regional spokesman.

"A Nepal army barracks was near the accident site which made the rescue of survivors easier," he added.

The aircraft involved in the accident was a Dornier plane belonging to the local Agni Air company. The airline operates three German-built Dornier 228 aircraft, according to the airline's website.

Pramod Pandey, Agni Air marketing manager, said two Danish nationals were among the passengers, although their condition was not known.

The crash was the second deadly air accident for Agni Air in less than two years.

In August 2010 one of the private carrier's Everest-bound planes crashed in bad weather near Kathmandu, killing all 14 people on board, including four US citizens, a Japanese and a British national.

Aviation accidents are relatively common, particularly during the summer monsoon season, when visibility is usually at its worst.

A small Buddha Air plane taking tourists on a sightseeing trip around Mount Everest crashed in September last year, killing all 19 people on board.