Mobile phone signals from the pilot of a crashed small Nepalese passenger plane may provide vital clues to soldiers and rescue workers on the possible location of the aircraft with 22 people, including four Indians, in the country's mountainous region, civil aviation officials said on Sunday.
The turboprop Twin Otter 9N-AET plane belonging to Tara Air took off at 10:15 am from Pokhara to Jomsom, another popular tourist town. The aircraft lost contact with the control tower 15 minutes later, according to an airline spokesperson.
The missing plane could possibly be located on Monday after Nepal Telecom tracked down the cellphone of the airplane's pilot Captain Prabhakar Ghimire through the Global Positioning System network, the Nepalese media reported.
“The cell phone of Captain Ghimire of the missing aircraft has been ringing and Nepal Army's helicopter has landed in the possible accident area after tracking the captain's phone from Nepal Telecom,” Prem Nath Thakur, general manager of the Tribhuvan International Airport was quoted as saying by MyRepublica newspaper website.
Earlier, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal had said it had traced the potential location of the plane in Khaibang in Mustang district.
Deo Chandra Lal Karna, spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, told the Kathmandu Post that based on an emergency locator transmitter, they have traced the potential area in Khaibang.
The ELT is an emergency beacon used in aircraft to alert rescue authorities and to indicate the location and the identity of an aircraft in distress.
“We have received a note from Bangalore, India, which tracks the ELT,” said Karna.
“But due to some complex weather factors, the rescue teams are finding it difficult to reach the probable site,” he added. “The area is blanketed in dense clouds and it has started to rain too," Karna added.
A Nepal Army helicopter carrying 10 soldiers and two employees of the civil aviation authority landed on the bank of a river near the Narshang Monastery, the possible site of the crash, media reports said.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal said that it has traced the potential location of the aircraft in Khaibang based on an emergency locator transmitter. However, due to bad weather, the search operations have been halted for the day.
There are four Indian nationals, two Germans and 13 Nepali passengers besides a three member Nepali crew, said Sudarshan Bartaula, a spokesperson at the airlines.
"Tara Air flight 9NAET that took off from Pokhara at 9.55 AM today with 22 people onboard, including 4 Indians, has gone missing. Search and rescue operation is on. The embassy is in touch with their family. Our emergency hotline number:+977-9851107021," the Indian embassy in Nepal tweeted.
The airline has issued the list of passengers, which identified four Indians as Ashok Kumar Tripathy, his wife Vaibhawi Bandekar, son Dhanush Tripathy and daughter Ritika Tripathy.
The aircraft was scheduled to land at Jomsom Airport in the Western mountainous region at 10:15 am.
The aircraft lost contact with the tower from the sky above Ghorepani on the Pokhara-Jomsom air route, aviation sources said.
According to an air traffic controller at Jomsom Airport, they have an unconfirmed report about a loud noise in Ghasa of Jomsom.
The weather condition at Pokhara-Jomsom route is currently cloudy with rainfall, which has affected the search operations, according to the airline's sources.
Earlier, Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand had directed authorities to intensify the search operations for the missing aircraft.
The aircraft was last tracked taking a turn toward the Dhaulagiri Peak, officials said.
Tara Air is the newest and biggest airline service provider in the Nepalese mountains, according to the airline website.
It started business in 2009 with the mission of helping develop rural Nepal.