A packed passenger bus plunged into a river early on Friday in central Nepal, killing 21 people, a senior local official said.

Rescuers struggled to recover bodies and help the injured to safety after the bus fell into the swelling Trishuli river, off the highway at Chandi Bhanjyang village, in Chitwan district.

"Twenty-one people have died in the accident and 16 have been rescued," district chief Binod Prakash Singh told AFP news agency, adding that the injured had been taken to a local hospital for treatment.

Singh said that rescuers were searching the area where the bus was still partially submerged to ensure that no passengers were stuck inside.

The bus was heading to the tourist town of Pokhara from the southern district of Rautahat.

Accidents are relatively common on Nepal's highways because of poor roads and badly maintained vehicles.

At least 25 people were killed last week when a crowded bus veered off a hilly road in Nepal's Kavre district and fell some 500 metres down a slope.

Source: AFP News