The plane was flying from the city of Pokhara to Jomsom, a popular tourist town in central Nepal. The aircraft took off at 9:55 am local time and lost contact with air control about 12 minutes into the flight, Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said. Flights between the two cities are usually 20-25 minutes long.
Authorities believe the incident was caused by poor weather, according to Binod BK, an official at the Nepal’s home ministry.
Two German nationals, four Indians and 13 Nepali citizens are among the 22 people missing, according to the ministry. The nationalities of two passengers are unknown.
Pokhara is some 80 miles west of Kathmandu, the capital.
The plane lost contact with the control tower five minutes before it was due to land at Jomsom, an airline official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Tara Air mainly flies Canadian-built Twin Otter turboprop plans. Flight-tracking website Flightradar24 said the missing aircraft made its first flight in April 1979.
The spokesperson added that the Nepalese Army has been enlisted to help search for the missing plane, but search-and-rescue efforts have been hampered due to poor weather.
A possible incident site was believed to have been spotted earlier in the day, after reports emerged of locals seeing something burning.
Later on Sunday, Nepal Army spokesperson Narayan Silwal said on Twitter that first responders had suspended operations until Monday due to both the lack of light and the inclement weather, which prevented helicopters from flying into the area of the flight’s last known location. The country’s weather office said there had been thick cloud cover in the Pokhara-Jomson area since the morning. One search helicopter was forced to return to Jomsom due to the conditions.
“The search will be summarized early in the morning tomorrow both from air and ground,” Silwal said.
Police official Prem Kumar Dani said a land-based search-and-rescue team had been sent to the area near Mount Dhaulagiri, the world’s seventh-highest peak at 26,795 feet (8,167 meters).
Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest, has a record of air accidents. Its weather can change suddenly and airstrips are typically located in difficult-to-reach mountainous areas.