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Asia-pacific

Plane crashes near Islamabad killing all people on board

Video by Catherine Nicholson

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-07-28

A plane carrying around 150 people crashed into a wooded hillside on Wednesday while trying to land in bad weather north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Pakistan's interior minister told local media that all of those on board were killed.

AFP - A Pakistani airliner carrying 152 people crashed in a ball of flames Wednesday into densely wooded hills outside Islamabad amid heavy rain and poor visibility, killing everyone on board.
  
Thick smoke and flames shot into the sky above the smouldering wreckage, partially buried on a remote hillside alongside pieces of charred flesh and body parts in the worst crash involving a Pakistani passenger jet in 18 years.
  
Airblue flight ED 202 from Karachi was being diverted into land at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International airport when witnesses saw it flying at an unusually low altitude before a deafening boom.
  


The plane disintegrated into 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.
  
"I saw a big ball of smoke and fire everywhere with big pieces of aircraft rolling down the hill," police official Haji Taj Gul said.
  
"The plane was flying very low. Then we heard a loud noise," said Wajih-ur Rehman, a resident of the exclusive E-7 neighbourhood in the Margalla foothills, home to Western expatriates and some of Pakistan's elite.
  
"Nobody survived," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Express TV. Health officials said DNA tests would be the only way to identify many of the remains.
  
The civil aviation authority and Airblue said there were 152 people, including six crew, on board the doomed plane. Seven children, including two babies, were on the passenger manifest, an official said.
  
"It's a big tragedy. It's really a big tragedy," Malik said.
  
The US embassy said two Americans were on the flight. The Austrian government said an Austrian-born businessman was on board as well.
  
Officials suggested the flight had been diverted due to bad weather, but it was unclear why the jet was flying so low and close to the Margalla Hills -- off the normal route for aircraft arriving from the southern city of Karachi.
  
One pilot said that a Pakistan International Airlines flight from Karachi had been diverted to Lahore only half an hour before the Airblue plane crashed because of bad weather in Islamabad.
  
The Pakistani government and civil aviation authority said all possible causes would be investigated, including terrorism, bad weather and sabotage, although officials gave no indication that an attack might have been to blame.
  
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira who earlier told Dawn TV that the plane's black box flight data recorder had been found clarified his statement in a press conference saying the box had yet not been recovered.
  
"At that stage I had less information. The fresh information I have is that the black box has not yet been found and at the moment we can not say something about the causes of the crash," he said.
  
The minister announced compensation of 500,000 rupees (5,800 dollars) for families of the victims.
  
Airblue spokesman Raheel Ahmed said the Airbus 321 took off from Karachi before 8:00 am (0300 GMT) and speculated that bad weather could have been the cause, saying the plane had no technical fault when it took off.
  
Rescue official Arshad Javed told AFP of horrifying scenes at the crash site after the routine commuter flight turned to carnage.
  
"All we could see were charred hands or feet. I collected two heads, two legs and two hands in a bag.
  
"We shouted if anyone was there alive, but heard no voice," he said.
  
"The wreckage of the plane is buried under the debris. First machines have to be deployed there to remove debris off the hill and then we can reach to pull out bodies or survivors -- if any."
  
Police said the wreckage was scattered in three directions.
  
The government declared a day of national mourning and called off a cabinet meeting as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed his grief over the "tragic incident" and offered prayers for the dead.
  
US President Barack Obama offered his "deepest condolences" to the families and friends of those killed. China's President Hu Jintao also conveyed his condolences.
  
Anguished families were in tears after hearing of the disaster while waiting to meet their relatives at Islamabad airport.
  


Airbus said the single-aisle plane was a relatively young 10 years old, and the European company offered its full assistance to Pakistani investigators.
  
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 deadliest civilian plane crash involving a Pakistani jet came in 1992 when a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a cloud-covered hillside on its approach to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, killing 167 people.
 

Date created : 2010-07-28

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