KATHMANDU, Jan. 16 (Reuters) – Investigators on Monday found the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder of a passenger flight that crashed, killing at least 70 people in Nepal’s worst plane crash in 30 years, officials said.
The data on the recorders could help investigators determine what caused the Yeti Airlines ATR 72 plane, with 72 people on board, to crash in clear weather on Sunday, just before landing in the tourist city of Pokhara.
Both recorders were in good condition and will be sent for analysis based on the manufacturer’s recommendation, Teknath Sitaula, a Kathmandu airport official, told Reuters.
Under international aviation rules, the crash investigation agency of the country where the aircraft was designed and built is automatically part of the investigation.
ATR is based in France and the aircraft’s engines are manufactured in Canada by Pratt & Whitney Canada RTX.N.
The Nepal Civil Aviation Authority has inspected all ATR 72 and ATR 42 aircraft operating in the country since the crash and found no technical faults, it said in a statement Monday.
There are currently 16 ATR 72 aircraft and three multi-carrier ATR 42s in the country, an aviation authority official said.
Rescuers battled cloudy weather and poor visibility on Monday as they searched a river canyon for missing passengers more than 24 hours after the crash.
Two more bodies were recovered on Monday, bringing the death toll to 70, said Navin Acharya, an official at the rescue coordination center at Kathmandu airport. The search for the remaining two missing persons was called off as darkness fell and will resume on Tuesday, he said.
Pokhara Police Officer Ajay KC said all the bodies had been sent to a hospital.
In the capital Kathmandu, about 100 people lit candles at a rally in memory of the victims of the crash and called on the government to ensure proper safety standards, witnesses said.
Condolences poured in from all over the world, including the Vatican.
“His Holiness Pope Francis extends his condolences to you and to all those affected by this tragedy, along with his prayers for those involved in the recovery efforts,” Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said in a message to Nepal’s president.
Reuters footage of the crash site showed rescuers looking at the charred remains of the plane near a mountain canyon.
The plane, on a scheduled flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara, the gateway to the scenic Annapurna Mountains, was carrying 57 Nepalese, five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans and one each from Argentina, Ireland, Australia and France.
Minutes before the plane was due to land on Sunday, the pilot requested a runway change, a Pokhara airport spokesperson said Monday. “Permission has been granted. “We don’t ask (why), when a pilot asks, we give permission to change approach,” spokesman Anup Joshi said.
Sunday’s crash underscored the need for the government to break up the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), which both regulates airlines and manages airports, experts said.
“The government should immediately separate the regulator and the service provider by splitting the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), which now carries out both tasks,” KB Limbu, an aviation expert and retired pilot, told Reuters.
“This leads to a conflict of interest.”
Asked for comment, Kathmandu airport official Sitaula denied that there was any such conflict in the functioning of CAAN.
“The officials of the regulatory body and the service provider (airport management) are separate and there is no reciprocal movement between the two bodies operating under the same organization,” he said, referring to the CAAN.
There are nine domestic airlines in Nepal, including Yeti Airlines and its unit Tara Air. Plane crashes at Yeti and Tara have killed at least 165 people in Nepal since 2000, out of a total of 359 deaths from aviation accidents, according to data from CAAN.
Another 75 people have died this century in helicopter crashes in Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, and where sudden weather changes can create dangerous conditions.
Experts say plane crashes are usually caused by a combination of factors and investigations can take months or more.
Anju Khatiwada, the co-pilot of Sunday’s ill-fated plane, lost her husband Dipak Pokhrel in a similar crash in 2006. Khatiwada’s remains have not been identified, but she is feared dead.
Nepal celebrated a day of national mourning on Monday and assembled a panel to investigate the disaster and propose measures to prevent such incidents in the future.