NEW: Tara Air says it can't take away the pain of victims' relatives, but it can "share their burden"
Most of the 19 bodies found are charred beyond recognition, a police official says
Another plane flying the same Pokhara-to-Jomsom route crashed in 2012
All are feared dead after a Tara Air plane carrying 23 people – two of them babies – crashed Wednesday morning in mountainous northern Nepal midway through what should have been a 19-minute flight, officials said.
Most of the 19 bodies retrieved as of early Wednesday evening were charred beyond recognition, said Bishwa Raj Khadka, deputy police superintendent for Myagdi district.
Search efforts at the crash site some 16,000 feet (4,900 meters) above sea level have been hampered by dense fog, according to Khadka.
Tara Air spokesman Bhim Rai initially said 21 people were on board, with three crew members among them. He updated the number to 23 – including two foreigners, one Chinese and one Kuwaiti – after learning that two infants were also on the plane, even if their names were not on the initial report.
The aircraft was supposed to have flown from Pokhara – one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal – to Jomsom, the gateway for one of the most popular Himalayan trekking routes.
“We are working to assist the families and friends of the passengers and crew,” Tara Air said on its website. “We cannot undo the pain and grief they feel, but we can share their burden of dealing with this tragedy.”
Contact lost eight minutes into flight, official says
The Twin Otter plane was supposed to be in the air for only 19 minutes after it took off around 7:50 a.m. Wednesday (9:05 p.m. ET Tuesday) from the city of Pokhara heading to the town of Jomsom, Rai said.
But eight minutes in, contact was lost.
Soon after, Myagdi district residents saw flames shooting up from a forest and called security officials, Nepali Tourism and Aviation Minister Ananda Pokharel said. It didn’t take long for arriving authorities to spot the plane’s wreckage.
They’re now trying to figure out why the aircraft went down.
Airline: Plane was new, weather was clear
Rai said the weather was clear when the plane took off Wednesday morning. And the Twin Otter aircraft was new, imported from Canada last September.
On its website, Tara Air describes itself as “the newest and biggest airline service provider in the Nepalese mountains,” with seven aircraft in its fleet.
The airline said its mission is to help develop rural Nepal. The region where the plane crashed is a notoriously windy, cold and, like much of Nepal, mountainous.
In 2012, an Agni Air plane flying the same route from Pokhara to Jomsom crashed, killing 15 people. Six people survived.
A technical problem prevented that plane from landing normally, said Bindesh Lal Karna of the Rescue Coordination Committee at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.
The pilot decided to head back to Pokhara, but as he turned around, the plane dropped out of the air.