Pakistan Jet Crash Kills 152


ISLAMABAD—An Airbus A-321 operated by Pakistani carrier Airblue Ltd. crashed in to heavily forested hills near Islamabad in foggy weather and rain on Wednesday, killing all 152 people on board, civil aviation authorities said.

The plane was at the end of a two-hour flight from Karachi to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. It went down in forested hills north of the city after being asked by airport traffic control to bank around before landing. There were 146 passengers and six crew aboard, authorities said. At least two American citizens and one Austrian were among the dead.

Airblue spokesman Raheel Ahmed said the plane "was in excellent condition and there was no technical fault when it took off from Karachi." The aircraft was commissioned in 2000 in use by Airblue, a privately owned carrier, since 2006, he said.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the possibility of sabotage couldn't be ruled out. " We are investigating the crash from all aspects," he told reporters. He said the plane had strayed into a no fly zone.

A commercial passenger plane crashed in bad weather near Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board. Video courtesy of Reuters.

Many other flights into Islamabad had been cancelled or diverted from Islamabad on Wednesday morning because of bad weather. The visibility had improved slightly when the Airblue flight was allowed to land.

Junaid Amin, the head of the Civil Aviation Authority said the plane had been asked to circle around because of traffic congestion. He said the flight lost contact with the control tower a few minutes before the crash.

Witnesses said the aircraft appeared to be flying very low before it crashed with a huge explosion and caught fire. "It hit the hill with bang," said Anjum Rehman, who saw the crash from the balcony of her house. A blaze of thick fire and plume of black smoke from wreckage could be seen from a distance.

An army battalion, scores of relief workers and three helicopters were involved in the recovery operation, which was hampered by a heavy downpour and difficult terrain. Local TV footage showed twisted metal wreckage hanging from trees and scattered across the rocky ground.

Pakistan's airline industry has expanded rapidly in recent years to cater to a growing middle class. That expansion has caused safety worries which led to the European Union partially banning state-owned Pakistan International Airlines Corp. from flying in EU airspace in 2007.

The ban came after a PIA Fokker F-27 aircraft crashed in June 2006 after taking off from the city of Multan, killing all 45 people on board. That was the last major air crash in Pakistan. The EU ban was lifted later in 2007 after PIA made safety improvements.

Other airlines in developing countries in Africa and Asia have also faced EU bans due to concerns that regulatory oversight wasn't keeping up with an explosion in new airlines. The EU bars most airlines based in Indonesia from flying in its airspace after a string of accidents and worries about regulatory control. Brussels recently lifted a ban on state-owned Garuda Indonesia and a few other airlines after they made safety improvements but kept its restrictions on scores of other new carriers.Airblue was started in 2004 by Pakistani businessman and politician Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and has quickly grown into the nation's No. 2 carrier behind PIA. Mr. Abbasi was a former chairman of PIA in the 1990s. Airblue flies international routes to the U.K., United Arab Emirates and Oman, as well as domestic flights.

According to Airblue's website, the airline carried 1.4 million passengers in its 2006-2007 fiscal year, compared with PIA's five million, the latest figures available. Until Wednesday, the airline hadn't suffered any fatal crashes.

Plane crash in Margalla hills a big incident: Foreign Minister

KARACHI, July 28 (APP): Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday said a plane crash in Margalla hills near Islamabad is a big incident.The Foreign Minister was talking to media at Quaid-e-Azam International Airport here.He expressed grief and sorrow over losses of lives in the crash and prayed for the departed souls.He said these type of accidents are unexpected and same occur throughout the world but security measures should be taken.Shah Mahmood Qureshi said attention of the government is towards rescue and relief operation at the moment so that the survivors if any be provided prompt medical cover.

Plane Crash in Pakistan Kills All 152 On Board

ISLAMABAD – A passenger jet that officials suspect veered off course in monsoon rains and thick clouds crashed into hills overlooking Pakistan's capital Wednesday, killing all 152 people on board and scattering body parts and twisted metal far and wide.

The Airblue jet's crash was the deadliest ever in Pakistan, and just the latest tragedy to jolt a country that has suffered numerous deaths in recent years due to al-Qaida and Taliban attacks. At least two U.S. citizens were on the plane, which carried mostly Pakistanis.

The plane left the southern city of Karachi at 7:45 a.m. for a two-hour flight to Islamabad and was trying to land when it lost contact with the control tower, said Pervez George, a civil aviation official. Airblue is a private airline based in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city.

The aircraft, an Airbus A321, crashed some 15 kilometers from the airport, scorching a wide stretch of the Margalla Hills, including a section behind Faisal Mosque, one of Islamabad's most prominent landmarks. Twisted metal wreckage hung from trees and lay scattered across the ground. Smoke rose from the scene as helicopters hovered.

The exact cause of the crash was not immediately clear, and rescue workers were seeking the "black box" flight data recorder amid the wreckage. But Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said the government did not suspect terrorism.

Rescue workers and citizen volunteers were hampered by the rain, mud and rugged terrain. The crash was so severe it would have been nearly impossible for any of the 146 passengers and six crew members to survive, rescue officials said.

"There is nothing left, just piles and bundles of flesh. There are just some belongings, like two or three traveling bags, some checkbooks, and I saw a picture of a young boy. Otherwise everything is burned," rescue worker Murtaza Khan said.

As the government declared Thursday would be a day of mourning and condolences poured in from the U.S., Britain and other nations, hundreds of people showed up at Islamabad's largest hospital and the airport seeking information on loved ones.

They swarmed ambulances reaching the hospital, but their hopes fell as rescue workers unloaded bags filled with body parts. A large cluster of people also surrounded a passenger list posted near the Airblue counter at the airport.

"We don't know who survived, who died, who is injured," said Zulfikar Ghazi, who lost four relatives. "We are in shock."

Mirza Ahmed Baig rushed to the hills after hearing that the plane carrying his brother had crashed. He wept amid the chilly weather, criticizing the rescue effort as too little and too lax.

"I'm not satisfied at all on the steps the government is taking," Baig said.

As of Wednesday night, when rescue work was suspended till the morning, 115 bodies had been recovered, federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said. DNA tests would be needed to identify most of them, he said.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire confirmed that at least two American citizens were on board, but he declined to provide any further information on their identities or links to Pakistan.

Witnesses said the plane appeared to be flying very low and that it seemed unsteady in the air.

"The plane had lost balance, and then we saw it going down," Saqlain Altaf, who was on a family outing in the hills when the crash occurred, told Pakistan's ARY news channel.

The Pakistan Airline Pilot Association said the plane may have strayed off course, possibly because of the poor weather. Several officials noted the plane seemed to be an unusual distance from the airport, which was some 9 1/2 miles (15 kilometers) away.

"It should not have gone so far," said Air Vice Marshal Riazul Haq, deputy chief of the Civil Aviation Authority. "We want to find out why it did."

Raheel Ahmed, a spokesman for the airline, said the cause of the crash would be investigated. The plane had no known technical issues, and the pilots did not send any emergency signals, Ahmed said. Airblue flies within Pakistan and to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and the United Kingdom.

Airbus said it would provide technical assistance to the crash investigators. The aircraft was initially delivered in 2000, and was leased to Airblue in January 2006. It accumulated about 34,000 flight hours during some 13,500 flights, it said.

The only previous recorded accident for Airblue, a carrier that began flying in 2004, was a tail-strike 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.

Other Pakistani airlines have come under international scrutiny due to safety concerns.

In 2007, the European Union temporarily banned flights in its airspace of most of the aircraft operated by Pakistan's national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, because of concerns over the age of the aircraft and poor maintenance. The bloc lifted the ban later that year after the airline took action to comply with safety standards.

The last major plane crash in Pakistan was in July 2006 when a Fokker F-27 twin-engine aircraft operated by PIA 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.

The Airbus 320 family of medium-range jets, which includes the A321 model that crashed Wednesday, is one of the most popular in the world, with about 4,300 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.


AP Aviation Writer Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, as well as Associated Press writers Ashraf Khan in Karachi and Zarar Khan, Nahal Toosi and Sebastian Abbot in Islamabad, contributed to this report.


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