Thai Airliner Crashes In Nepal's Himalayan Foothills; 113 Aboard -- 11 Americans Are Listed As Among The Passengers

KATMANDU, Nepal - A Thai Airways International jetliner carrying 113 people, including 11 Americans, slammed into a hill in heavy rain today in the forested Himalayan foothills as it prepared to land. Airport officials said there was little chance of survivors.

Nepalese army searchers found the wreckage of the Airbus A310-300 in the remote Palung Valley about 50 miles south of Katmandu, a three-hour march from the nearest road, said Nagendra Ghimire, the deputy manager of the airport.

The announcement came shortly after officials said an air search was called off because of darkness.

The aircraft, apparently carrying many tourists, lost contact with the air-control tower 47 miles south of the airport near the village of Simra, where the hills begin to rise to the lofty Himalayas, Thai Airways said.

Flight TG311 had departed Bangkok and was scheduled to arrive at 12:55 p.m. (12:10 a.m. PDT).

Hundreds of Nepalese citizens had gathered at the airport to await news of relatives who may have been on board.

"Oh God, I hope he is not on the flight. I hope he missed it," said a woman who wept uncontrollably. Her husband, Mohan Shreshta, was due to return from a vacation in Bangkok.

The pilot radioed that there was a technical hitch as the plane approached the airport but reported a few minutes later that he had resolved the problem, said Ghimire.

"I'm OK now and coming in to land from Simra," Ghimire quoted the captain as saying in his final contact.

"After that, there was no sign of the plane at all," Ghimire said. He did not say what the technical problem was.

Three army helicopters initially scoured the area around the airport in the Katmandu Valley, a broad fertile range ringed by green mountains.

Thai Airways said 99 passengers and 14 crew members were aboard the plane, but it accounted for only 80 of them by nationality.

A statement released in Bangkok listed 11 Americans, 17 Japanese, 23 Nepalese and 14 Europeans. Other passengers came from Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Finland.

The Thai Airways statement said the Katmandu control tower gave the aircraft permission to land when it was at an altitude of 11,000 feet. It circled around for an approach and tried to climb to 11,500 feet. Then contact was lost.

Katmandu is a popular tourist destination and the staging point for mountain climbing teams hoping to scale the world's highest peaks.

But July, when the city is drenched by summer monsoons, is off-season, possibly explaining why the plane was half-empty.

Thai Airways said the jet was built in November 1987 and leased from a Canadian company, Blenheim, in May 1990.

It was the first major accident involving a Thai Airways International airline since its domestic and international operations merged in 1988.

The last crash involving a Thai Airways airliner was on Aug. 31, 1987, when a domestic Boeing 737 plunged into the sea off the resort island of Phuket, killing all 83 people on board.

Errors by the pilot and control tower were blamed in that crash.