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4 Americans among 14 killed in plane crash in Nepal

Four Americans, a Japanese and a Briton were among 14 people killed Tuesday when a small plane crashed in Nepal in bad weather, officials reported.

The 15-seat Dornier 228 twin turboprop operated by Agni Air was headed for the town of Lukla about 7:15 a.m. when it was advised by air traffic control to turn back because of thick cloud cover, said Bishnu Dulal, the airline’s reservations manager. The flight from Katmandu to the 9,200-foot-elevation town, popular with hikers, normally takes about 25 minutes.

By the time it approached Katmandu, however, the capital also was socked in, so the pilot headed for Simra airport to the south. But before reaching that airport the plane crashed in Shikharpur village, about 50 miles south of the capital.

Tri Ratna Manandhar of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said all 11 passengers and three crew members, eight of whom were Nepalese, were killed.

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“It has been raining very heavily for some days,” Dulal said. “Weather was the reason for the crash.”

Agni Air identified the Americans, all tourists, as Irina Shekhets, 30; Leuzi Cordoso, 49; Heather Finch, 40; and Kendra Fallon, 18. No hometowns were given. The Japanese passenger was Yuki Hayashe, 19, and the Briton was Jeremy Taylor, 30.

The Times of India reported that another Western tourist, who gave her name only as E. Wols, was scheduled to board the 7:04 a.m. flight but missed it.

The rescue coordination office at Katmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport said in a statement that soldiers had reached the crash site on foot and were retrieving the bodies but that rescue helicopters had not been able to land because of low visibility and continuing rain.

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Agni Air officials said that the helicopters had to land a mile or two away and that the condition of the bodies made early identification difficult.

A villager who witnessed the accident, Ram Bahadur Gole, told the Avenues Television news channel that on impact the plane broke into several pieces, which were scattered on a hillside.

A statement by the U.S. Embassy in Katmandu offered condolences to the victims’ families and said relatives of the American victims had been notified.

Nepal has a history of aviation safety problems, said Kapil Kaul, New Delhi-based chief executive of the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation. Kaul said that many of the passengers probably thought little about the hazards. “Tourists, especially backpackers, tend to take safety for granted,” he said. “And in Nepal, they’re mostly backpackers.”

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Since 1981, 270 Dornier 228 aircraft have been built in Germany and India, and about 120 remain in service. The U.S.-based Aviation Safety Network said on its website that 29 had been lost in accidents resulting in a total of 122 fatalities.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said it was assembling a five-member committee to investigate the crash and its report would be submitted within 65 days.

In a 2009 audit, the International Civil Aviation Organization rated Nepal below the global average in all critical categories of safety oversight.

mark.magnier@latimes.com

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Anshul Rana in The Times’ New Delhi Bureau contributed to this report.


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