Plane carrying 152 crashes in Pakistan
Many feared dead in Airblue crash.
July 28, 2010 12:00 by Rasha Reslan
A passenger jet carrying 152 people crashed into the hills surrounding Pakistan’s capital on a rainy Wednesday morning. At least 16 bodies and seven survivors have been found so far, but many more were feared dead.
The cause of the Airblue crash was not immediately clear, said Pervez George, a civil aviation official. He said the plane had 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 difficult weather. Airblue is 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, and later we learned that the plane had crashed,” George said, adding that the model of the plane was Airbus 321 and the flight number was ED202.
Guards with the forestry service said they had found some wreckage and seen at least five dead bodies, Imtiaz Inayat Ali, an official with Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority, was quoted by an Associated Press report as saying.
The same official was quoted by a Reuters report doubling the figure of confirmed dead.
Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said at least five wounded passengers had been rescued.
“Dead bodies are lying all around and very few might have survived in the accident,” Bin Yameen, a senior police official of Islamabad, told Reuters. “Bodies are being lifted through helicopters.”
Bin Yameen said a woman was alive at the scene and crying for help.
“It was raining. I saw the plane flying very low from the window of my office,” witness Khadim Hussain said.
The crash site is low on the Margalla Hills facing Islamabad, about 300 meters (yards) up the side of the hills. Smoke was visible from the tonier districts of the city, and crowds of onlookers lined the streets pointing and watching the smoke rise from the green hills.
Pakistani news channels showed what appeared to be wreckage of the plane as a helicopter hovered above the heavily forested hills to assess the situation. Fire was visible and smoke was blowing up from the scene. The army said it was sending special troops to the area to help out along with helicopters.
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.
“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,” 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,” Ali said. “For God’s sake, take care of the worried people, the relatives of those who were on the unfortunate plane. They have no information and are just running here and there.” 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. George said 146 passengers were on the flight along with six crew members.
Airbus confirmed one of its planes was involved in the Airblue crash.
“We regret to confirm there has been an accident with an Airbus aircraft and we will provide more information when we have more confirmed data available,” said Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath.
Raheel Ahmed, a spokesman for the Airblue, said an investigation would be launched, but that for now the focus was to find survivors. The plane was no more than eight years old, and it had no known technical issues, 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 US-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 August 1989, another PIA Fokker, with 54 people onboard, went down in northern Pakistan on a domestic flight. The plane’s wreckage was never found.
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.
— With reports from AP & Reuters