KATHMANDU: Nepal's tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari was among seven people killed Wednesday (Feb 27) when a helicopter crashed in the country's hilly east, officials said.
Rescue workers retrieved the bodies of Adhikari, 49, the pilot and five other passengers from a hillside in Taplejung district where the Air Dynasty chopper went down.
"The respected minister's body has been identified," Ram Krishna Subedi, the spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs, said in a press conference.
The minister's personal bodyguard has been identified as among the dead. The owner of the helicopter company was also aboard but his body has not been formally identified.
Subedi said two army helicopters had been dispatched to bring the bodies back to the capital Kathmandu.
Two other private helicopters had also been sent to assist but local authorities said snowy weather had made it difficult for the choppers to land.
A search and rescue team was deployed to the area after locals alerted authorities to flames and smoke rising from a hillside.
"The helicopter is in pieces, and scattered all over," said Suraj Bhattarai, a witness who saw the debris.
The helicopter crashed into the hillside minutes after taking off from a nearby temple, a local official said. The cause of the crash is still unknown.
The minister was on a trip to scope out a possible location for a new airport in the region.
It is just the latest aviation accident to plague Nepal, an impoverished Himalayan nation with a poor air safety record.
Nepal has some of the world's most remote and tricky runways, flanked by snow-capped peaks with approaches that pose a challenge for even accomplished pilots.
The country has a booming private helicopter industry, flying tourists and goods to remote corners of the Himalayan nation where road access is limited or non-existent.
In September last year, six people including a Japanese tourist was killed when a helicopter crashed.
A US-Bangla Airways plane crashed near the capital's airport in March, killing 51 people.
Nepal-based airlines are banned from flying in European Union airspace.
Its poor air safety record is largely blamed on inadequate maintenance and sub-standard management.