Nepalese authorities on Tuesday began returning to families the bodies of victims of a flight that crashed Sunday, and said they were sending the aircraft's data recorder to France for analysis as they try to determine what caused the country's deadliest plane accident in 30 years.
The flight plummeted into a gorge on Sunday while on approach to land at the newly opened Pokhara International Airport in the foothills of the Himalayas, killing at least 71 of the 72 people aboard. The remains of 71 people have been recovered from the crash site, according to the local aviation authority.
Searchers found the plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder on Monday, and combed through debris scattered down the 300-meter-deep (984-foot-deep) gorge in search of the people who remain missing, but are presumed dead.
Jagannath Niraula, spokesperson for Nepal's Civil Aviation Authority said the cockpit voice recorder would be analyzed locally, but that the flight data recorder would be sent to France. The aircraft's manufacturer, ATR, is headquartered in Toulouse, France. The French air accident investigations agency confirmed it is taking part in the investigation, and its investigators are on site today.
The twin-engine ATR 72-500 aircraft, operated by Nepal's Yeti Airlines, was completing the 27-minute flight from the capital, Kathmandu, to the resort town of Pokhara, 200 kilometers west.
It's still not clear what caused the crash, which took place less than a minute's flight from the airport in light wind and clear skies.
Aviation experts say it appears that the turboprop went into a stall at low altitude on approach to the airport, but it is not clear why.
From a smartphone video shot from the ground seconds before the aircraft crashed, one can see the ATR 72 "nose high, high angle of attack, with wings at a very high bank angle, close to the ground," said Bob Mann, an aviation analyst and consultant.
"Whether that was due to loss of power, or misjudging aircraft's energy, direction or the approach profile, and attempting to modify energy or approach, that aircraft attitude would likely have resulted in an aerodynamic stall and rapid loss of altitude, when already close to the ground," he said in an email.
The aircraft was carrying 68 passengers, including 15 foreign nationals and four crew members. The foreigners included five Indians, four Russians, two South Koreans, and one each from Ireland, Australia, Argentina and France. Pokhara is the gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular hiking trail in the Himalayas.
Funerals for victims, many of whom were from the area, are expected to be carried out in Pokhara and nearby districts.
(With input from AP）