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Rescuers battle to reach Thai plane wreckage

A THAI international flight from Bangkok to Kathmandu with 99 passengers and 14 crew on board crashed yesterday in Nepal. Rescuers were last night trying to reach the wreckage 8,500ft up a heavily forested steep mountainside in the foothills of the Himalayas but there were not expected to be any survivors.

Accounts differed last night between the airline and Kathmandu airport staff on events leading up to the crash. A spokesperson for Thai International in Bangkok said that flight TC311, an Airbus A310-300, had left Bangkok's Don Muang airport at about llam local time. About 20 minutes before the scheduled landing in Kathmandu, after being given clearance to land, the aircraft's captain decided instead to take the Airbus back up to 'Point Romeo', a flight position 41 nautical miles from the airport, said the statement. There was no further contact with the aeroplane.

According to Thai International, there was only slight wind and showers, visibility of three miles, and scattered clouds.

In Nepal, the Kathmandu air traffic controllers told Reuters they had instructed the pilots to divert the flight because visibility in torrential monsoon rains was too poor for landing. The pilots were told to take a south-western course towards India.

Meanwhile, Indian air traffic control in Calcutta said the aeroplane disappeared from their radar screens about 14 nautical miles from Kathmandu as it was descending to land.

The Airbus wreckage was spotted several hours after losing contact, on a mountainside between the Nepalese districts of Palung and Shivabhanjyang, about 60 miles to the south of Kathmandu.

The approach to Katmandu airport, which is situated in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks, offers some spectacular Himalayan views but can also be treacherous in bad weather as pilots spiral in to make their descent.

Two Britons were among the 99 passengers. The Bangkok to Kathmandu flight is a popular route for round-the-world travellers and those on board included Nepalese, Japanese, Americans, Belgians, Israelis, Germans, Spanish and six other nationalities.

For Thai International, the crash could not come at a worse time. Its chairman, Air Chief Marshal Kaset Rojananin, is about to be forced out as part of efforts by Thailand's interim government to reduce the military's hold in business; tourist traffic to Thailand is still suffering from the fall-out of May's bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters; and Thai International's newly floated shares have been falling in the stock market.

Within two hours of the Thai plan crash yesterday, a Chinese Yak-42 airliner exploded in flames while taking off from the Nanjing airport, killing at least 100 people and injuring 26, the state- run Xinhua News Agency said.

The plane was carrying 116 passengers and 10 crew members, and efforts to rescue the injured were still under way last night.

The Soviet-designed plane, headed from the eastern city of Nanjing to Xiamen, on China's south-east coast, crashed at 3.10pm local time, Xinhua said. It said the plane 'failed to lift off and burst into a ball of flames' about 600 yards from the runway.