|Nepal plane crash kills 15‚ six survive|
A small plane crashed near a treacherous high-altitude airport in northern Nepal Monday, killing 15 people while six others miraculously survived, officials said.
The aircraft belonging to local carrier Agni Air crashed near Jomsom airport, a gateway to the nearby Annapurna mountain range, shortly after the pilot reported a fault, a rescue official told AFP.
"Fifteen people have been killed. Thirteen of them were Indian tourists and the other two were Nepali pilots," police spokesman Binod Singh told AFP.
He said there were six survivors, among them a Nepali air hostess, two Indian children and a man who is being treated for head injuries. A Danish couple was also reported to have survived.
The aircraft had been chartered by a group of Indian pilgrims for a flight from Pokhara in central Nepal to Muktinath, a sacred place for Hindus and Buddhists at the foot of the Thorong La Himalayan mountain pass, regional police spokesman Rajendra Singh Bhandari said.
"A Nepal army barracks was near the accident site which made the rescue of survivors easier," he added, saying they had been airlifted to hospitals in Pokhara.
Agni Air marketing manager Pramod Pandey confirmed to AFP that two passengers from Denmark were also on the plane and he later told Danish news agency Ritzau that they had survived.
"They are in a stable condition," he reportedly said.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but Bimlesh Lal Karna, head of Nepal's national rescue department, said the pilot had reported a warning light flashing in the cockpit as he descended to Jomsom.
The pilot told air traffic control moments before the crash that he was diverting back to Pokhara, said Karna.
"While returning to Pokhara, the aircraft seems to have lost balance," Karna told AFP.
The incident was the second deadly air accident for Agni Air in less than two years.
In August 2010, one of its planes crashed in bad weather near Kathmandu, killing all 14 people on board, including four Americans, a Japanese and a British national.
The aircraft had been returning to Kathmandu after poor visibility prevented it from landing at Lukla, its intended destination in a popular trekking spot in eastern Nepal.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai issued a statement saying he was "deeply saddened" by the latest crash, while the Indian embassy set up a hotline providing information for concerned relatives.
"I express condolences to the bereaved families and wish for the speedy recovery of the injured. I urge all those involved in the rescue operation to continue their good work," Bhattarai said.
The latest fatal crash in Nepal -- the fifth in less than two years -- will lead to new scrutiny of the country's numerous small airlines, which provide vital links to remote parts of the country.
Jomsom Airport, at an elevation of 2,707 metres (8,880 feet), has a reputation for being one of the world's most dangerous airfields due to the mountainous terrain on the approach.
However, the US-based Flight Safety Foundation, an independent, non-profit, organisation researching air accidents across the globe, lists just three fatal crashes at or near the asphalt landing strip since 1970.
In other recent accidents in Nepal, 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.
Ten months earlier, a Tara Air plane carrying three crew and 19 passengers, including one American, smashed into a mountainside shortly after taking off from a small airstrip 140 kilometres east of Kathmandu.
The passengers were mostly Bhutanese citizens on a religious tour of Nepal and had chartered the plane to take them to a Buddhist holy site in the area.