The aircraft, flying from the capital Kathmandu to Lukla in eastern Nepal, burst into flames after crash-landing on the sloping airstrip, eyewitnesses reported.
Of the 19 passengers on the plane, 14 were foreigners and five were Nepalese and only one Nepalese survived, said airport official Mohan Adhikari. “Twelve German and two Swiss people were on the passenger manifest, and we are trying to confirm this as the passengers may have changed,” he said.
Security staff and local helpers took two hours to put out the fire in the wreckage of the Yeti Airlines plane, said Suraj Kunwar, a local journalist at the airport, 140 kilometres (90 miles) northeast of Kathmandu. Hundreds of tourists and residents from Lukla gathered to watch the recovery operation, many in tears.
“Officials at the airport here have said that bad weather was the reason for the crash. There was heavy cloud when the accident occurred,” Kunwar said. When the weather is clear, dozens of flights land daily at Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary airport, the gateway to Nepal’s Everest region used by thousands of trekkers and mountaineers.
The flight from Kathmandu to the airport, which is set amid soaring mountains, takes just half an hour.
Yeti is a privately owned domestic airline founded in 1998 that prides itself on running a service to many far-flung destinations across Nepal. It has previously provided essential transport links to national and international relief teams working in Nepal as well as carrying many tourists. The tourism trade is a major foreign currency earner for impoverished Nepal and since the end of a civil war in 2006 between the country’s Maoists and the government, numbers of foreign visitors have increased. This year around 500,000 tourists are expected, the highest number since 1999, with many coming to trek in the stunning Himalayan mountains that form Nepal’s northern border with Chinese-controlled Tibet. The Everest Base Camp trek—where tourists fly into Lukla and walk for around two weeks—is one of the most popular routes.