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Thai jetliner crashes in Nepal

KATMANDU, Nepal -- A Thai Airways International jetliner carrying 113 people, including 11 Americans, crashed Friday as it tried to fly out of bad weather that prevented it from landing in the Nepalese capital, airline and government officials said.

There was no immediate word of survivors from the crash of Flight TG311. The wreckage of the Airbus 310-300 jetliner was sighted on a mountainside in the Himalayan nation several hours after it disappeared from radar screens in Katmandu, a spokeswoman for the airline said.

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'The wreckage was discovered at 8:30 p.m. local time in Nepal on a heavily forested mountainous area,' the spokeswoman said. 'Troops and police with rescue gear have already been dispatched by helicopter to the site.'

Rescue efforts were hampered by darkness Friday. More than 1,500 rescue workers gathered to search for survivors, but inclement weather Saturday morning delayed their efforts. A planned helicopter search was aborted early Saturday due to poor weather conditions.

The wreckage was sighted near the village of Arga Khola, about 40 miles southwest of the capital, a senior Nepalese army official told United Press International. Earlier, state-owned Radio Nepal had said the crash site was near the village of Aghor, in the same area.

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'We do not know if there are any survivors,' said the officer, who asked not to be identified. 'We have sent medical rescue, evecuation and security teams to the spot.'

The site of the wreckage could be at an altitude of anything from 4, 000 to 6,000 feet, he said. The crash site was spotted by a local army unit in a hilly forested area, Radio Nepal said. Army and police medical teams were rushed to the scene, the radio said.

Government sources disclosed that among the passengers on board was Santosh Koirala, wife of the prime minister's nephew, Niranjan Koirala, who is tourism adviser to the premier.

The Thai Airways plane disappeared Friday morning shortly after the pilot requested and received permission to divert the flight back to India because of bad weather in mountainous Nepal.

Air traffic controllers in Katmandu said the pilot radioed for permission to divert the flight just eight minutes before the plane was due to land at 1 p.m. local time. Controllers said the plane was headed southeast toward Bihar state in India at the time they lost contact.

Authorities initially dispatched three helicopters to search the hills and mountains south and east of the capital, but their work was hampered by rain and heavy cloud cover until the air search was abandoned.

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The Thai counter at Katmandu airport confirmed there were 99 passengers and 14 crew on board the plane. The nationalities of the passengers was given as follows: five Belgians, 23 Nepalis, two Israelis, two Britons, 17 Japanese, 11 Americans, five Finns, two Canadians, one New Zealander, one Australian, four Germans, two South Koreans, three Spaniards, four Swiss, two Thais and six others whose nationalities were still unknown.

A Thai Airways spokesman said the aircraft was built in 1987 and was rented by the airline three years later from the Blenheim company of Canada. The plane had a capacity of 247 passengers.

More than 300 soldiers and policemen have been dispatched to the crash site to help search for any survivors, army and police sources said. Hundreds of volunteers also gathered at a mountain village, preparing to join the search. The prime minister was expected to visit the crash site Saturday morning.

In 1987, a Thai Airways Boeing 737 on a domestic flight crashed in the resort island of Phuket, killing all 83 people on board.

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