MADHYAMANCHA, NEPAL - Nepal’s tourism minister, Rabindra Adhikari, was among seven people killed Wednesday when a helicopter crashed in the country’s hilly east, officials said.
Rescue workers retrieved the bodies of Adhikari, 49, the pilot and five other passengers from a hillside in Taplejung district where the Air Dynasty chopper went down.
“The respected minister’s body has been identified,” home affairs ministry spokesman Ram Krishna Subedi said in a press conference.
The minister’s personal bodyguard has been identified as among the dead. The owner of the helicopter company was also aboard but his body has not been formally identified.
Subedi said two army helicopters had been dispatched to bring the bodies back to the capital Kathmandu.
Two other private helicopters had also been sent to assist but local authorities said snowy weather had made it difficult for the choppers to land.
A search and rescue team was deployed to the area after locals alerted authorities to flames and smoke rising from a hillside.
“The helicopter is in pieces, and scattered all over. Everything was in flames,” said Suraj Bhattarai, a witness who saw the debris.
The helicopter crashed into the hillside minutes after taking off from a nearby temple, a local official said.
The minister was on a trip to scope out a new airstrip in the region.
The exact causes of the crash remain unknown.
It is just the latest aviation accident to plague Nepal, an impoverished Himalayan nation with a poor air safety record.
Nepal has some of the world’s most remote and tricky runways, flanked by snow-capped peaks with approaches that pose a challenge for even accomplished pilots.
The country has a booming private helicopter industry, flying tourists and goods to remote corners of the country where road access is limited or non-existent.
In September, six people including a Japanese tourist were killed in a helicopter crash.
A US-Bangla Airways plane crashed near the capital’s airport in March, killing 51 people.
Nepal-based airlines are banned from flying in European Union airspace.
Its poor air safety record is largely blamed on inadequate maintenance and sub-standard management.