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.