152 killed as plane crashes into Islamabad’s Margalla Hills (Fifth Lead)

July 28th, 2010 - 7:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Yousuf Raza Gilani By Awais Saleem
Islamabad, July 28 (IANS) All 152 on board a private Pakistani airline flight from Karachi were killed when the jet crashed amid heavy rain in the thickly wooded Margalla Hills near this Pakistani capital Wednesday morning.

Airblue flight 202, coming in from Turkey via Karachi, abruptly lost contact with the airport here and crashed near the popular Damanekoh resort at about 9.45 a.m., about two hours after it had taken off from Karachi.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed that nobody had survived the crash. There were 152 people on board the Airbus A-321, includng six crew members.

The wreckage turned into a ball of flame and plumes of thick smoke rose through the wet sky. A rescue official said he had seen burnt bodies and parts of the plane spread all over the Margalla valley in what is possibly Pakistan’s worst air disaster.

Hampered by rain, rescue staff struggled to reach the crash site in an inaccessible and difficult terrain. The aircraft wreckage was spread in a wide area on both sides of the valley.

Over 100 bodies had been recovered, said Islamabad Police’s Deputy Inspector General Binyamin. He added that identification of the bodies could be a problem.

The rescuers formed a three kilometre long human chain to evacuate the bodies. Heavy equipment required to cut through the debris of the aircraft struggled to reach the site.

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight had taken off from Islamabad for Karachi at about the same time but was diverted to Lahore because of bad weather.

Eyewitnesses said they saw the ill-fated plane flying very low.

Saqlain Altaf told a Pakistani news channel that he was on a family outing in the hills that skirt Islamabad when he saw the plane, looking unsteady in the air.

“The plane had lost balance, and then we saw it going down,” he said.

The armed forces were summoned to help in rescue efforts and emergency declared in the hospitals.

Civil Aviation spokesperson Pervez George said that flight was allowed go ahead after all necessary weather and technical checks. “The plane was flying from Karachi to Islamabad and it lost contact with us at around 9.45 local time (0445 GMT).”

Some of 159 confirmed passengers could not catch the flight as they were late.

But some were not so lucky. A couple on board had reportedly married just three days ago and were going to Islamabad on their honeymoon while six school children were travelling to Islamabad to attend a session of the youth parliament.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani cancelled his cabinet meeting and undertook an aerial survey of the crash site along with the chief ministers of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pathtunkhwa.

The civil aviation authority formed an inquiry board headed by Air Commodore Abdul Majeed to probe the crash.

There were chaotic scenes at the airport here. Anxious relatives thronged the Benazir Bhutto International Airport to get information about their dear ones. A man cried inconsolably as he waited outside the airport to learn about the fate of the passengers.

The aircraft captain was Pervez Iqbal Chaudhary while Muntajibud Din was his co-pilot. Shazia Razzaq, Umme Habiba, Hina Usman and Naheed were the flight attendents.

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