Rescuers used drones and abseiled down a deep gorge on Tuesday looking for the last missing person from Nepal’s worst air disaster in 30 years, in which at least 71 people died including small children.
Difficult terrain around the 200 metre (650 feet) gorge and poor weather was hampering rescue efforts near the tourist city of Pokhara, where the Yeti Airlines ATR 72 turboprop carrying 72 people crashed on Sunday just before landing.
The search was called off after darkness descended, and will resume on Wednesday, said Tek Bahadur K.C., a top district official.
Rescue teams were struggling to identify bodies, Ajay K.C, a police official in Pokhara who is part of the rescue efforts, told Reuters.
“There is thick fog here now. We are sending search and rescue personnel using ropes into the gorge where parts of the plane fell and was in flames,” he said before the search was suspended for the night.
Rescuers had collected what appeared to be human remains and sent them for a DNA test, he said, but search efforts would continue until all 72 passengers and crew were accounted for.
“There were small children among the passengers,” K.C. said.
Search teams found 68 bodies on the day of the crash, while two bodies were recovered on Monday before the search was called off.
One more body had been recovered as of late Tuesday afternoon, said Prakash Pokhrel, an official coordinating rescue operation at Kathmandu airport.
An airport official said 48 bodies were brought to the capital Kathmandu on Tuesday and sent to a hospital for autopsies, while 22 bodies were being handed over to families in Pokhara.
Medical personnel in personal protective equipment and masks helped transport bodies from stretchers to a vehicle before they were flown to Kathmandu.
Television footage showed weeping relatives waiting for the bodies of their loved ones outside a hospital in Pokhara.
“We have lost the precious lives of so many, and this is happening again and again in Nepal,” said Ram Bahadur K.C., uncle of flight captain Kamal K.C. “This is an irreparable loss.”
Tulsi Kandel, who works at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, said it could take up to a week to complete the autopsies.
On Monday, searchers found the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder from the flight, both in good condition, a discovery that is likely to help investigators determine what caused the crash.
Under international aviation rules, the crash investigation agencies of the countries where the plane and engines were designed and built are automatically part of the inquiry.
ATR is based in France and the plane’s engines were manufactured in Canada by Pratt & Whitney Canada (RTX.N).
French and Canadian air accident investigators have said they plan to participate in the probe.