Aviation accidents are relatively common in the Himalayan monsoon, when visibility is at its worst [Getty]
A small passenger plane carrying 22 people has gone missing shortly after taking off from an airport in eastern Nepal.
Air traffic control lost contact with the pilot on Wednesday around 10 minutes after the Twin Otter plane took off from Lamidanda, a small airstrip around 140 kilometres east of Kathmandu, the capital.
“We have alerted the emergency services and a search and rescue effort is under way,” Ram Prasad Neupane, head of the civil aviation authority, said.
Two helicopters flew to the remote area to try to locate the plane, which belongs to a small domestic airline, Tara Air, but the search operation had to be called off when night fell.
An army and police rescue team is being sent out to conduct a ground search, Binod Puri, the authority’s safety director, said.
Tara Air, which was only set up last year and runs a service to many far-flung destinations across Nepal, said one of the 19 passengers on board was an American citizen. All the other passengers are thought to be Nepalese.
Air travel is popular in impoverished Nepal, which has only a very limited road network. Many communities, particularly in the mountains and hills, are accessible only on foot or by air.
Aviation accidents are relatively common, particularly during the summer monsoon, when visibility is usually at its worst.
Last month a helicopter crashed near Mount Everest during a mission to rescue two stranded climbers, killing the pilot and an engineer.
In August, a plane headed for the Everest region crashed in bad weather killing all 14 people on board, including four Americans, a Japanese and a British national.
An investigation blamed the crash on a power failure. It said the plane’s generator failed and the pilot did not follow the proper procedures to conserve the remaining battery power.
Tara Air is a subsidiary of Yeti Airlines, a privately-owned domestic airline founded in 1998.
Yeti’s last major accident was in 2008 when a passenger plane crashed on landing at Lukla airport, the gateway to Mount Everest, killing all 19 people on board, most of whom were German tourists.