Pakistan searches for black box of doomed plane

A woman’s torso was recovered on Friday from the site of Pakistan’s worst aviation disaster, adding to a grim harvest as bodies are returned to families and investigators seek the crucial black box.

The Airblue passenger jet slammed into forested hills overlooking the Pakistani capital in heavy rain and poor visibility on Wednesday as it came into land after a morning flight from Karachi, killing all 152 people on board.

The search and recovery operation has been hampered by torrential monsoon rains and low cloud, but resumed on Friday as the weather cleared, allowing teams to trek from the road to the debris on the hillside.

Abdul Jalil, a rescue worker, said that the upper portion of a woman’s body had been recovered, adding to a collection of charred flesh and remains from at least 115 of those on board.

“It was lying on the hill,” Jalil said. Other small pieces of body had also been recovered on Friday, he added.

Zulfiqar Ghori, spokesperson for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, said about half the victims had been identified so far.

Zamurad Khan, head of the state-run charity Baitul Maal, said that at least 88 bodies had been handed over to relatives following identification.

Other relatives have been angered after being told they may have to wait as long as a week for laborious DNA tests.

Looking for clues
But investigators are now focusing on the aircraft’s black box, hoping the flight data recorder will provide valuable clues to the fate of the 10-year-old Airbus 321, which was piloted by an experienced captain.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said it had a team pursuing every avenue of inquiry. It said it was too early to apportion blame and warned that the outcome of the investigation could take time.

Questions about the crash have focused on why the pilot was flying so low over the craggy Margalla Hills in a restricted flight zone.

“They are gathering all the details, documented evidences, wreckage samples, conversations and interviews of the witnesses and officials,” said deputy director general Riaz-ul-Haq.

“Representatives of Airbus are conducting a separate inquiry. But the two teams will collaborate whenever and wherever it is deemed necessary.”

“We can’t blame and hold the pilot responsible for the crash at this stage. We don’t know what the actual cause could be … Weather conditions have so far prevented us from finding the black box, but we hope we’ll find it today.”

The crash was the worst aviation tragedy on Pakistani soil, piling more woes on a country that is on the frontline of the war on al-Qaeda and where Islamist militant bombers have killed more than 3 570 people in the past three years.

Pakistan came under fire from British Prime Minister David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai this week after the leak of thousands of secret US files accused the country of double-dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Another 200 people have been killed by torrential rains, and on Monday eight people died when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted the mourning rituals for a Cabinet minister’s only son in the north-west.

Two Americans, an Austria-born businessman, five children and two babies were among the 152 people on board flight ED 202.

The only deadlier civilian plane crash involving a Pakistani jet occurred when a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a cloud-covered hillside as it approached the Nepalese capital Kathmandu in 1992, killing 167 people. — AFP

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