‘No survivors’ in Pakistan plane crash

A Pakistani airliner carrying up to 152 people crashed in a ball of flames on Wednesday into densely wooded hills outside Islamabad amid heavy rain and poor visibility, killing everyone on board.

Rescue officials said pieces of charred flesh and body parts were littered around the smouldering wreckage, partially buried on a remote hillside, in the deadliest crash involving a Pakistani passenger jet in 18 years.

Private airline Airblue’s flight 202 from Karachi was coming in to land at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport when witnesses saw it flying at an unusually low altitude and then heard a loud boom.

The plane disintegrated into a gorge between two hills, enveloped in cloud and some distance from the road, severely hampering rescue efforts and limiting visibility for helicopters hovering overhead, said an Agence France-Presse correspondent.

“I saw a big ball of smoke and fire everywhere with big pieces of aircraft rolling down the hill,” said police official Haji Taj Gul.


“The plane was flying very low. Then we heard a loud noise,” said Wajih-ur Rehman, a resident of the exclusive E-7 neighbourhood in the Margalla foothills, home to Western expatriates and some of Pakistan’s elite.

“Nobody survived,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Express TV. Bodies were mostly mutilated and in pieces, and would require identification, he said.

Conflicting reports
There were conflicting reports over the number of people on the doomed plane. The civil aviation authority said there were 152, while police said there were 149. The airline put the number of passengers and crew at 150.

Earlier reports had said that a handful of people survived the disaster, but asked whether all those on board the aircraft had died, Malik replied: “Yes, all of them are dead.”

“It’s a big tragedy. It’s really a big tragedy,” the minister said.

Officials said air traffic control diverted the plane over the Margalla on its final approach into Islamabad, outside the normal route for aircraft flying up from the southern port city of Karachi.

The civil aviation authority said all possible causes would be investigated, including terrorism and bad weather, although officials gave no indication that an attack might have been to blame.

“In the last conversation with the control tower, the pilot had been given landing clearance and the plane was proceeding normally for landing before it crashed into the hills,” said Riaz-ul-Haq, the authority’s deputy director.

“The investigation teams will probe every possible reason behind the crash, ranging from the bad weather to terrorism.”

Rescue official Arshad Javed told AFP of horrifying scenes at the crash site after the routine commuter flight turned to carnage.

“All we could see were charred hands or feet. I collected two heads, two legs and two hands in a bag.

“We shouted if anyone was there alive, but heard no voice,” he said.

“The wreckage of the plane is buried under the debris. First machines have to be deployed there to remove debris off the hill and then we can reach to pull out bodies or survivors — if any.”

The government declared a day of national mourning and called off a Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed his grief over the “tragic incident” and offered prayers for the dead.

Anguished families were in tears after hearing of the disaster while waiting to meet their relatives at the Islamabad arrivals terminal.

“We cannot explain our agony, we don’t know if he is alive,” said Bilal Haider, who had come to collect his younger brother, Abbas, returning from a trip to Karachi for a job interview.

Bad weather
Airblue spokesperson Raheel Ahmed said the Airbus 321 took off from Karachi before 3am GMT, and speculated that the bad weather could have been to blame.

“There was no technical fault in the plane when it took off,” he said.

Airbus said the single-aisle plane was a relatively young 10 years old, and the European company offered its full assistance to Pakistani investigators.

No foreigners were believed to be among the dead.

Airblue is one of Pakistan’s most respected airlines. It has been operating only since 2004, using new Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft on domestic routes and international services to Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Manchester.

Pakistan enjoys a relatively good air safety record.

The most recent fatal commercial crash was a Pakistan International Airlines Fokker F27 that came down in July 2006, killing 45 people on take-off from the central city of Multan, bound for Lahore.

The deadliest civilian plane crash involving a Pakistani jet was a PIA Airbus A300 that crashed into a cloud-covered hillside on its approach to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, killing 167 people in September 1992. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

India and China border conflict intensifies

A frontier dispute between the two Asian giants turned deadly for the first time in 45 years. Observers argue the skirmish was exacerbated by Delhi’s annexation of Kashmir and Ladakh

Censorship, surveillance could be the biggest rights challenges post Covid-19

The impacts of these infringements could last well beyond the life of the Covid-19 pandemic

Surviving Covid-19 — and Modi

A religious and nationalist agenda has replaced the promise of development and left India ill-equipped to manage the pandemic

Terrorism used as excuse to suppress Kashmir

Within India, the Bharatiya Janata Party government is stoking Islamophobia by using religion as an instrument of identity politics

Kashmir: Modi’s threat to India’s democracy

The revocation of the contested territory’s special status marks a dangerous Hindu-nationalist shift

Du Plessis blasts ‘mediocre’ South Africa after World Cup exit

The Proteas slumpped to a 49-run defeat against Pakistan to end their chances of reaching a World Cup semifinal
Advertising

Jailed journalist a symbol of a disillusioned Zimbabwe

Hopewell Chin’ono backed President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he succeeded Robert Mugabe. Now he’s in jail

Sisulu axes another water board

Umgeni Water’s board in KwaZulu-Natal was appointed irregularly by her predecessor, the water and sanitation minister claims
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday