155 die in Pak plane crash
Airbus Hit Margalla Hills In Islamabad
REZAUL H LASKAR
Islamabad, July 28: All 155 people aboard a Pakistani passenger airliner were killed today when the ill-fated jet crashed into the Margalla Hills overlooking Islamabad in heavy rain amid poor visibility and turned into a ball of flames in the country’s worst air disaster in recent times.
The Airbus A321 operated by private airline Airblue -- which had 147 passengers and eight crew aboard -- hit the Margalla Hills near Daman-e-Koh viewpoint at about 10 am local time and exploded into pieces.
“Nobody survived,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Express TV. Bodies were mostly mutilated and in pieces, he said, adding they could not be identified immediately.
“It’s a big tragedy. It’s really a big tragedy,” he said.
Two Americans were among passengers of the aircraft, which took off from Karachi at 7.50 am, according to the US embassy here.
The plane was about to land at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport when it lost radio contact with the control tower and later crashed into the thickly-forested hills overlooking the capital city, officials said.
The wreckage fell into a deep ravine between two hills. Several hours after the crash, rescue workers and military personnel pulled out the bodies from the smoldering and burning wreckage that lay scattered over a thickly forested area in inaccessible hills shrouded by clouds and fog.
Officials said they believed the crash was caused by bad weather. However, the exact cause would be ascertained by an inquiry to be conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority, they said.
Rescue workers said they had shouted out for possible survivors but received no response.
Special search and rescue teams of the army, navy, air force and paramilitary Pakistan Rangers reached the crash site along with members of a state-run rescue service and local residents shortly after the accident but officials said operations were being impeded by the difficult terrain and heavy rains.
A total of 159 passengers were booked on the flight from Karachi to Islamabad but a dozen of them did not show up, Malik said.
Other officials said seven children, including two babies, and 29 women were among those who were on the flight manifest.
Islamabad has been hit by heavy rains for the past three days and the city was covered by fog and low-lying clouds.
Local TV channels showed twisted metal parts hanging from trees and scattered across the ground.
The crash occurred in an area that is not easily accessible as the Margalla Hills are covered by thick forests.
City residents said they had seen the Airblue aircraft flying “very low” over Islamabad shortly before the crash.
“I heard a loud bang and then saw smoke rising over the Margalla Hills,” said Aman Ali, a school boy.
Rescue workers had to trek uphill for over an hour to reach the site.
Witnesses said many bodies were difficult to identify as they were mutilated and burnt.
Rescue workers told the media that they had gathered heads and limbs in bags.
Flames and smoke continued to spew from the wreckage several hours later though the fire was partially extinguished by the rain.
Interior Minister Malik said the aircraft was at 2,600 feet when it was cleared to land. It then rose up to 3,000 feet before disappearing from radar screens, he said.
“We will need to study the black box to ascertain the exact cause of the crash. The (control) tower did not receive any SOS message or report of a technical problem before the crash,” Malik said.
Sources in the Civil Aviation Authority expressed surprise at authorities clearing the aircraft to land at Islamabad despite the poor visibility and bad weather around the federal capital.
The sources told PTI that state-run Pakistan International Airlines had diverted all its flights to Islamabad to Lahore.
Scores of anxious relatives of passengers gathered at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport and different hospitals in Islamabad to get information about their kin. Many broke down and wept inconsolably.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed shock and grief at the crash.
The government declared a day of national mourning and Gilani put off a meeting of his Cabinet till next week. The Premier also conducted an aerial survey of the crash site.
Airbus said in a statement that the aircraft which crashed was 10 years old and leased to Airblue in 2006. It had made about 13,500 flights.
The last major fatal crash in Pakistan occurred in the central city of Multan in July 2006, when a Pakistan International Airlines Fokker F27 crashed, killing 45 people.
The deadliest plane crash involving a Pakistani airliner occurred in September 1992, when a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a hillside in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, killing 167 people.
Lastupdate on : Wed, 28 Jul 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 28 Jul 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 29 Jul 2010 00:00:00 IST
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