Rescuers in Nepal's mountainous west are searching on foot for a missing Nepal Airlines plane carrying 18 people, as officials called off a helicopter hunt due to poor visibility.

The plane carrying three crew and 15 passengers, including a child lost contact with air traffic control 15 minutes after taking off from the tourist town of Pokhara, airline officials and police said on Sunday.

The aircraft was travelling to the town of Jumla, 353km west of Kathmandu. Most of those on board are Nepalese.

More than 150 police are taking part in the search, which is now focused on the hilly district of Arghakhanchi, 226km west of the capital, said local official Govinda Panthi.

Safety concerns

Heavy rain hampered earlier efforts with two helicopters forced to turn back because of bad weather, said Bimlesh Lal Karna, the chief air traffic controller at the country's largest airport in Kathmandu.

The incident again raises concerns about the nation's aviation sector, which has suffered a series of fatal accidents.

The EU in December banned all the country's airlines from flying to the EU.

Fifteen people were killed at the high-altitude Jomsom airstrip in May 2012 when a plane carrying Indian pilgrims crashed into a mountain.

In September 2012, 19 people, including seven Britons and four Chinese, were killed after an Everest-bound plane crashed minutes after taking off from Kathmandu.

Source: AFP