Pakistan passenger plane crashes in rain, 152 dead

Written by Reuters | Islamabad | Updated: Jul 29 2010, 05:40am hrs
A Pakistani passenger plane crashed in heavy rain near Islamabad on Wednesday, killing all 152 people on board, officials said, in the worst aviation accident in Pakistan.

Two Americans were among the victims, a US embassy spokesman said. He had no further details. There are no survivors. We believe all are dead. We are recovering the remains of the dead bodies from the wreckage, Imtiaz Elahi, chairman of the state-run Capital Development Authority, a city municipal body. The Airbus 321, belonging to private airline Airblue, crashed into a heavily wooded and hard-to-access hillside while flying from the southern port city of Karachi. More than 90 bodies had been recovered so far, but the bad weather was making recovery efforts difficult.

We have suspended the air operation because of rain. It will take a long time to clear the area. Theres no way to transport bodies from the site except via helicopters and even helicopters cannot land there, said Aamir Ali Ahmed, senior city government official, said.

Rescuers said they had to dig through the rubble with their bare hands, with fire and thick smoke hampering their work. The fire has since been extinguished, but access to the hillside remained limited to pedestrians and helicopters.

You find very few intact bodies. Basically, we are collecting bodies parts and putting them in bags, police officer Bin Yameen. The plane lost contact with the control room of the Islamabad International Airport at 0443 GMT. It was carrying 146 passengers and six crew members.

The pilot was given directions to land either on runway I or II, interior minister Rehman Malik told reporters. The plane was at 2,600 feet (792 metres) before landing but suddenly it went to 3,000, which was unexplained.

If the visibility to the runway was so poor then it should have been diverted.

Defence minister Ahmed Mukhatar said the control tower at the airport had been sealed and a team would examine the black box data recorder and radio traffic between the plane and the tower.

If you look at the position of the wreckage its clear that the plane went beyond safety margins. It should have manoeuvred within five miles of the runway but it did not happen, said Ejaz Haroon, managing director of state-run airline PIA.