As Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk lit 1,000 butter lamps in his throne room to mourn the 18 Bhutanese killed in an air crash in Nepal and the Buddhist kingdom’s central monks’ body began three days’ mourning rituals, Nepal on Friday began investigating the passenger list that had described the group as Nepalis.
The general manager of the Kathmandu-based travel agency that had helped the group of Bhutanese pilgrims charter an aircraft was arrested by police on Thursday soon after the crash was confirmed.
On Friday, the internal revenue authorities were to quiz Kamala Gurung, general manager of Travel Light Pvt Ltd, on how the 18 Bhutanese passengers had been passed off as Nepalis.
The Twin Otter flown by domestic Nepali airline Tara Air, which crashed in eastern Nepal Wednesday soon after taking off for Kathmandu, was initially thought to be carrying 19 Nepali pilgrims besides a three-member Nepali crew.
However, after the wreck of the plane was located in a forest in eastern Nepal Thursday and searchers confirmed that all 22 people on board were dead, queries by anxious relatives from Bhutan revealed that the majority of the victims were actually Bhutanese.
Only one man, said to be of Tibetan origin, was carrying an American passport.
The substitution is said to have been done deliberately to enable the travellers to get the concessional fare charged from Nepali citizens.
Gurung pleaded innocence, saying the passengers had described themselves as Nepalis and given Nepali names.
However, she is being suspected of having issued the tickets knowingly in order to avoid paying taxes.
Nepal’s Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Singh Bhandari announced the substitution would be investigated as soon as it became known that the pilgrims were actually from Bhutan.