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Plane with 18 people on board missing in Nepal

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A small plane owned by state-run Nepal Airlines Corporation company went missing with 18 people aboard in bad weather in west Nepal on Sunday, officials said, highlighting air safety concerns in the mountainous nation.

The Canada-made Twin Otter aircraft was carrying 15 passengers, including an infant, and a crew of three on a flight from the resort town of Pokhara, 125 km (80 miles) west of Kathmandu, to Jumla in the far west of Nepal.

It lost contact with the control tower soon after taking off, airport official Dharmendra Pandey said.

Local television channels said the plane had crashed in the nearby Arghakhanchi district. Pandey and police officials said they had no information about any crash.

It was raining in many parts of Nepal this weekend and some mountainous areas were under snow. Bad weather prevented search and rescue helicopters from flying to the area where the plane went missing, authorities said.

The latest incident highlighted poor safety records in Nepal where 13 private airlines fly to nearly 50 airports, many of them in difficult locations in remote hills and mountains with often cloudy weather and no access by road.

In December the European Union blacklisted Nepali airlines and banned them from flying to the EU on safety grounds.

At least 97 people have died in six air crashes in Nepal since 2010, the worst of which was in September 2012 when 19 people died after a Dornier plane crashed in Kathmandu just after taking off for Lukla, gateway to Mount Everest.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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