Kathmandu: As Nepal`s authorities Thursday confirmed that all 22 people on board a small aircraft missing since Wednesday had perished following a crash in a dense forest in Nepal, Bhutan began emergency measures to identify the victims, mostly Bhutanese nationals, and administer their last rites.
A Twin Otter flown by domestic airline Tara Air went missing minutes after taking off from Lamidanda airport in eastern Nepal`s mountainous Khotang district Wednesday afternoon, carrying 19 people, who were initially thought to have been pilgrims from Nepal.
The aircraft was heading towards Kathmandu around 3 p.m. when it crashed in Gouri forest in nearby Okhaldhunga district.
Flown by Nepali pilot Anup Shakya, the three-member cabin crew included co-pilot Sachindra Shrestha and air hostess Sadiksha Gurung.
Shrestha was said to have been engaged to a fellow co-pilot Sophiya Singh, who was killed in another domestic aircrash in the Everest region in northern Nepal in August.
While the bodies of the cabin crew had been retrieved and flown to Kathmandu`s Teaching Hospital for postmortem examination Thursday, police said it would take time to collect the scattered and mangled bodies of the passengers and bring them to the capital.
The crash is said to have occurred at an altitude of nearly 9,000 ft.
There was confusion over the identity of the 19 passengers on board. They were said to be Bhutanese nationals who falsely gave their nationality as Nepalis in order to escape paying the higher fares prescribed for foreigners.
Bhutan`s Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley said in an emergency press conference in his capital Thimphu Thursday that the Bhutanese director at the SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu, Pema Letho, was coordinating with a team headed by the home secretary.
The cabinet secretary of Bhutan arrived in Kathmandu Thursday with an eight-member team to oversee arrangements to bring the bodies - badly mangled - back home. Buddhist monks were on the standby in Thimphu to perform the last rites.
Thinley said a morning flight to Nepal had been arranged Friday to take the bodies back to Bhutan.
Of the 18 Bhutanese killed in the crash, the Bhutanese authorities had been able to ascertain the identity of six till late afternoon.
They were: retired Lt. Col. Tshewang Rinchen, his wife Aum Dema and their two children, Thinley Rinchen and Kesang Wangmo; Samdrup, an accountant with the Center for Bhutan studies and Kuenzang Dorji, owner of Gyelyong enterprise. The 19th passenger, a male named Kelsang Choedak, was said to be a Tibetan or Bhutanese carrying an American passport.
The pilgrims, though mostly Buddhists, were returning from a celebrated Shiva temple in eastern Nepal.
Sharad Singh Bhandari, Nepal`s tourism and aviation minister, Thursday said the government was ordering a probe into the identity of the dead passengers.
This is the second major crash this year.
In August, another small place carrying mostly foreign tourists, crashed near the Everest region, killing all 14 people on board.
Bad weather, difficult terrain and technical disasters have contributed to make domestic flying in Nepal unpredictable.