Kathmandu, Jan 16 (PTI) The black box of the crashed Yeti Airlines' aircraft with 72 people, including five Indians, on board was recovered on Monday, as rescue workers retrieved 69 bodies from the accident site in Nepal's resort city of Pokhara.
Officials said 41 bodies out of 69 recovered so far have been identified as Nepal observed a national day of mourning on Monday. Three missing persons are believed to be dead and rescuers will resume their operation on Tuesday to retrieve the bodies.
Both the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder have been recovered as search and rescue teams rappelled down a 300-metre gorge to continue their efforts, which were suspended overnight, officials said.
The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) records radio transmissions and other sounds in the cockpit, such as conversations between the pilots, and engine noises. The flight data recorder (FDR) records more than 80 different types of information such as speed, altitude and direction, as well as pilot actions and performance of important systems.
According to Kathmandu airport officials, the boxes were recovered from the site of the accident, a day after Yeti Airlines' 9N-ANC ATR-72 aircraft crashed on the bank of the Seti River between the old airport and the new airport minutes before landing.
The boxes were handed over to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), said Sudarshan Bartaula, a spokesperson of the Yeti Airlines.
The boxes could offer vital clues about Sunday's crash - Nepal's deadliest aviation accident in over 30 years.
Rescue workers recovered one more body on Monday. So far, 69 bodies have been recovered. Rescuers struggled to recover the remaining three bodies from the crash site due to the difficult terrain.
"It's very difficult to recover the bodies from the 300 metres deep gorge which is very narrow as well. We have been using all available equipment to make the mission successful,” Tek Bahadur KC, chief district officer of Kaski, was quoted as saying by the Kathmandu Post. The operation will resume on Tuesday to recover the bodies, he said.
Nepal's civil aviation body said that 41 of the 69 bodies have been identified so far.
The five Indians, all reportedly from Uttar Pradesh, have been identified as Abhisekh Kushwaha, 25, Bishal Sharma, 22, Anil Kumar Rajbhar, 27, Sonu Jaiswal, 35, and Sanjaya Jaiswal.
According to sources, the families of Indian victims will help identify the bodies in Kathmandu.
The district administration of Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, is facilitating the movement of bereaved families to Kathmandu, sources told PTI.
Of the five Indians, four were planning to participate in paragliding activities in the tourist hub of Pokhara, said a local resident, who travelled with them to Nepal.
A medical team has been airlifted from the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu.
In a statement, the Yeti Airlines said that a Nepali Army helicopter has been in Pokhara to airlift bodies of the foreign nationals, crew members and of those whose identity has not been established to Kathmandu for forensic examination to establish their identities.
As the accident site lies in a deep gorge of Seti river, it was very difficult for search operations, the Army sources said.
The plane commanded by Captain Kamal KC, an instructor pilot, made the first contact with the Pokhara control tower from nearly 110 kilometres away.
"The weather was clear. We allocated Runway 30 which is the eastern end. Everything was fine,” Anup Joshi, spokesperson for Pokhara International Airport, was quoted as saying by the Kathmandu Post newspaper.
He added that no problems had been reported.
The flight captain later asked for permission to switch to Runway 12 which is the western end.
"We were not sure why. Permission was granted, and accordingly, the aircraft started its descent,” said Joshi, who is also a senior air traffic controller.
"At 10:32 am, the plane took off from Kathmandu. It was scheduled to land at Pokhara at 10:58 am. Was in continuous contact with Pokhara Tower. The landing clearance of that plane had also been obtained. The weather was also fine. Everything was fine then how the accident happened is a matter of investigation," said Premnath Thakur, General Manager, Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu.
"A high-level investigation team has been formed. Any conclusion can be drawn by checking its voice recorder and other circumstances," Thakur said.
The team will submit its report within 45 days.
Pokhara, the tourist hot-spot lies between two rivers - the Bijayapur and the Seti - which makes it a perfect habitat for birds. Excellent for sightseers, of course, but a terror for pilots.
Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 claimed that the crashed aircraft was 15 years old and equipped with an 'old transponder with unreliable data'.
According to Nepal’s civil aviation body, 914 people have died in air crashes in the country since the first disaster was recorded in August 1955. The tragedy in Pokhara on Sunday is the 104th crash in Nepali skies and the third biggest in terms of casualties.
The only incidents in which more people were killed took place in July and September 1992. Those crashes involved aircraft of Thai Airways and Pakistan International Airlines and left 113 and 167 people dead, respectively.
The last major air accident in Nepal happened on May 29 when all 22 people onboard, including four members of an Indian family, were killed as a Tara Air plane crashed in Nepal's mountainous Mustang district.
Nepal has had a fraught record of aviation accidents, partly due to its sudden weather changes and airstrips located in hard-to-access rocky terrains.