x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 December 2017

No survivors in Pakistan air crash

A government official says all 152 people on board a plane that crashed in the hills surrounding Pakistan's capital were killed.

Two women mourn for their father after the plane crash in the Margala Hills on the outskirts of Islamabad.
Two women mourn for their father after the plane crash in the Margala Hills on the outskirts of Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD // A government official says all 152 people on board a plane that crashed in the hills surrounding Pakistan's capital were killed. Imtiaz Elahi, the chairman of the Capital Development Authority, told The Associated Press that earlier reports of five survivors from the crash were wrong and that all aboard died. The Capital Development Authority has a group that responds to emergency situations. Rescue officials said pieces of charred flesh and body parts were littered around the smouldering wreckage, partially buried on a remote hillside following Pakistan's first major aviation accident in four years.

The aircraft, owned by the private airline Airblue, was coming into land from Karachi at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International airport. Witnesses saw a jet flying at unusually low altitude before hearing a loud boom. The plane plummeted in 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, an AFP correspondent said.

Police official Haji Taj Gul said: "I saw a big ball of smoke and fire everywhere with big pieces of aircraft rolling down the hill." Wajih-ur Rehman, a resident of the smart E-7 neighbourhood in the foothills of the Margalla Hills, told AFP: "The plane was flying very low. Then we heard a loud noise," Rescue workers have recovered the remains of about 80 people from the wreckage, the chief of Islamabad's city administration, Imtiaz Inayat said.

"There are no reports of survivors. Initial reports about five [survivors] have not been confirmed so far," he added. Rescue official Arshad Javed told AFP: "All we could see were charred hands or feet. I collected two heads, two legs and two hands in a bag. "There were 150 people on board but no survivor was found. We shouted if anyone was there alive, but heard no voice," he said, returning from the site with four other police and rescue officials.

"The debris of the plane was scattered there in raging fire," Mr Javed said. "The wreckage of the plane is buried under the debris. First machines have to be deployed there to remove debris of the hill and then we can reach to pull out bodies or survivors, if any," he said. Pakistan declared a day of national mourning and called off a cabinet meeting as the prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani "expressed grief" over the "tragic incident" and offered prayers for those who had been killed.

Other rescue workers also said there were no apparent signs of survivors, saying that reports from the scene all spoke of body parts. Anguished families were in tears after hearing of the disaster while waiting at the arrivals terminal where they had intended to meet their relatives. Bilal Haider, who said he had come to collect his younger brother Abbas, who went to Karachi for a job interview after getting a Masters in business administration, said: "We cannot explain our agony, we don't know if he is alive. Had we known that this is going to happen, we would never have sent him."

Airblue spokesman Raheel Ahmed said the Airbus 321 took off from Karachi bound for Islamabad before 8am with 144 passengers and six crew members on board. Mr Ahmed said: "Apparently the cause of the crash is bad weather, but we leave that to the investigators." Ambulances queued along the nearest road and anxious crowds gathered on the approach to the Margalla Hills while dozens of soldiers, paramilitary troops and rescue workers walked painstakingly uphill to reach the site.

Flames and smoke continued to spew from the wreckage hours later. 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 takeoff 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