x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

127 feared dead as jet crashes near Islamabad

The Boeing 737-200 operated by the private company Bhoja Air was flying from Karachi to Islamabad.

Pakistani rescue workers and residents search through debris at a plane crash site on the outskirts of Islamabad Friday.
Pakistani rescue workers and residents search through debris at a plane crash site on the outskirts of Islamabad Friday.

ISLAMABAD // A Pakistani passenger jet crashed in bad weather near Islamabad yesterday, with all 127 people on board feared dead.

The crash was the second major aviation accident in the country in two years.

The aircraft, a Boeing 737-200 operated by the private company Bhoja Air, was flying from Karachi to Islamabad.

"The cause of the crash will be investigated but the incident happened when it was raining," a civil aviation official said.

He said 118 passengers and nine crew members were on board.

Rescue officials said wreckage of the plane had been scattered over 1.5 kilometres.

"We are trying to retrieve bodies. So far, we have shifted 25 dead bodies to the hospitals in Islamabad," Kamal Khan, a rescue official, said.

Officials said the plane crashed in Hussainabad, a village just 2 kilometres from the Benazir Bhutto International airport in the capital.

It was unclear whether any people on the ground were killed, but the crash happened in what appeared to be a relatively unpopulated area. A violent rain, wind and thunder storm was lashing the capital at the time of the crash, which occurred about 6.40pm.

"It was really bad weather for a flight," said the navy Captain Arshad Mahmood, who lives near the crash site. "The pilot was forced to move down to avoid clouds that were generating the lightning and thunder."

Several farmers threshing wheat saw the craft burst into flames when it hit the ground.

"The flames leapt up like they were touching the sky," said Mohammad Zubair.

Adeel Shehzad, a witness, told PTV that the plane hit a tree and electricity wires before crashing into the fields in the village. "It was on fire."

The army declared an emergency and cordoned off the crash site.

Television footage showed charred bodies and plane wreckage lying on the ground.

The interior minister, Rehman Malik, told state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) that the plane caught fire while it was in air but he said he could not say what caused the fire.

"It could be lightning. I'm not sure. It will be investigated … it's a national tragedy."

Bhoja Air started domestic operations in Pakistan in 1993 and eventually expanded to international flights to the UAE in 1998. The company suspended operations in 2001 because of financial difficulties but resumed them last month.

Pakistan had its worst air crash in 2010 when an AirBlue passenger plane crashed in the Margalla Hills surrounding Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board.

The state-run Pakistan International Airlines has had two disasters in other countries. In 1979 and 1992, PIA jets crashed in Jeddah and Kathmandu, killing 156 and 167 people, respectively.

In 2006, a PIA plane crashed near Multan, Pakistan, killing 45 people.

Although Pakistan's air industry has been booming, critics say airlines do not maintain safety and service standards.



* With additional reporting by Associated Press