No survivors in jet crash near Pakistani capital – The Globe and Mail
Islamabad — The associated Press and Globe and Mail UpdatePublished on Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2010 1:49AM EDTLast updated on Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2010 12:04PM EDT
A passenger jet crashed into the hills surrounding Pakistan’s capital amid poor weather Wednesday, killing all 152 people on board and blazing a path of devastation strewn with body parts and twisted metal wreckage.
Initial Interior Ministry reports that five people survived the Airblue crash were wrong, said Imtiaz Elahi, chairman of the Capital Development Authority, which deals with emergencies and reports to the ministry.
“The situation at the site of the crash is heartbreaking,” Elahi told The associated Press. “it is a great tragedy, and I confirm it with pain that there are no survivors.”
Around midday, as a plume of smoke continued to rise from the smoldering wreckage, Pakistan Red Crescent Society Chairperson Senator Nilofar Bakhtiar said rescue crews had given up hope of finding survivors.
“Now they’re just collecting body parts,” she said.
The Red Crescent has an office nearby in Islamabad, and the society’s rescue teams were among the first to arrive.
“You can still see some body parts hanging around the mountain, and our volunteers are trying to collect those pieces,” Ms. Bakhtiar said. “It looks very gloomy, the whole picture, because they are not expecting we will find anybody alive. The bodies they found are in a very terrible condition. You can’t even recognize the parts.”
The dead included two U.S. citizens, said the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad without providing further details.
The crash left twisted metal wreckage hanging from trees and scattered across the ground on a bed of broken branches. Clouds of dense grey smoke rose up from the burning wreckage as a helicopter hovered above.
The search effort was hampered by muddy conditions and smouldering wreckage that authorities were having trouble extinguishing by helicopter, said Dawar Adnan, a rescue worker with the Pakistan Red Crescent.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, said Pervez George, a civil aviation official. The plane left the southern city of Karachi at 7:45 a.m. for a two-hour scheduled flight to Islamabad and was trying to land during cloudy and rainy weather
Airblue is a private service based in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.
“The plane was about to land at the Islamabad airport when it lost contact with the control tower,” Mr. George said, adding that the model of the plane was Airbus 321 and the flight number was ED202.
Local TV footage showed twisted metal wreckage hanging from trees and scattered across the ground on a bed of broken branches. People were climbing the heavily forested hills to search for the dead and wounded, while a helicopter hovered above. fire was visible and smoke rose from the scene. The army said it was sending special troops to aid the search.
Rescue volunteers look toward where smoke rises from the wreckage of a passenger plane that crashed in the Margalla Hills on the outskirts of Islamabad.
At the Islamabad airport, hundreds of friends and relatives of those on board the flight swarmed ticket counters desperately seeking information. A large cluster of people also surrounded the list of passengers on the flight, which was posted near the Airblue ticket counter.
“We don’t know who survived, who died, who is injured,” said Zulfikar Ghazi, who was waiting to receive four relatives. “We are in shock, but no one is here to console us, to help us. how are we going to receive their bodies?”
“nobody is guiding anyone. People are running from one counter to another,” said Arshad Mahmood, whose brother, Maulana Nawab Ulhasan, a prayer leader in a town near Islamabad, was on the flight.
“I’m praying for his survival, but I think there is little hope,” Mr. Mahmood said.
Arshad Ali said his cousin, Raza Ali, was supposed to be on the flight but missed it in Karachi on his way from Canada. “We are happy he missed the flight, but things here are in shambles at the airport,” Mr. Ali said.
Saqlain Altaf told Pakistan’s ARY news channel that he was on a family outing in the hills when he saw the plane looking unsteady in the air. “The plane had lost balance, and then we saw it going down,” he said, adding that he heard the crash.
Officials at first thought it was a small plane, but later revised that. Mr. George said 146 passengers were on the flight along with six crew members.
It was unclear what caused the crash, and there were witness accounts that it was flying very low. but officials from the Pakistan Airline Pilot Association said the plane appeared to have strayed off course, possibly because of the weather.
When wind conditions are not favourable, pilots are often asked to circle around toward the Margalla hills to use a different runway, but they normally stay within 4 kilometres of the airport, said Zahid Barolla, the association’s joint secretary.
“but I don’t know why it drifted away so far,” Mr. Barolla said about the flight.
Rescue workers rush to the site of a plane crash in Islamabad.
Suhil Baloch, head of the association, speculated that weather was the likely cause.
A frequent cause of aviation disasters during the approach and landing phase is known as “controlled flight into terrain,” in which an otherwise airworthy plane is accidentally flown into the ground or water, usually because of the pilots’ spatial disorientation due to low visibility or other factors.
Raheel Ahmed, a spokesman for the airline, said an investigation would be launched. The plane was no more than eight years old, and it had no known technical issues, Mr. Ahmed said. He added that to his knowledge, the pilots had not sent any emergency signals.
Airblue flies within Pakistan as well as internationally to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and the United Kingdom.
The only previous recorded accident for Airblue, a carrier that began flying in 2004, was a tailstrike in May 2008 at Quetta airport by one of the airline’s Airbus 321 jets. There were no casualties and damage was minimal, according to the U.S.-based Aviation Safety Network.
The Airbus 320 family of medium-range jets, which includes the 321 model that crashed Wednesday, is one of the most popular in the world, with about 4,000 jets delivered since deliveries began in 1988.
Twenty-one of the aircraft have been lost in accidents since then, according to the Aviation Safety Network’s database. The deadliest was a 2007 crash at landing in Sao Paolo by Brazil’s TAM airline, in which all 187 people on board perished, along with 12 others on the ground.
The last major plane crash in Pakistan was in July 2006 when a Fokker F-27 twin-engine aircraft operated by Pakistan International Airlines slammed into a wheat field on the outskirts of the central Pakistani city of Multan, killing all 45 people on board.
In September 1992, a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a mountain in Nepal, killing all 167 people on board. Investigators found the plane was flying 1,500 feet lower than it reported as it approached the Katmandu airport.
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