Afghan jet with 100 on board feared crashed

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The Independent Online

An Afghan passenger jet with more than 100 people on board was missing and feared crashed after it failed to land at Kabul airport or turn up in neighbouring Pakistan, where a company official said it had been diverted due to bad weather.

The Kam Air Boeing 737 took off yesterday afternoon from the western Afghan city of Herat bound for the capital but was unable to land because of a snowstorm, Feda Mohammed Fedayi, the airline's deputy director said.

He said the plane was diverted to an airport in Pakistan, possibly the border city of Peshawar, but that as of this morning the company had no word on whether it landed safely.

Pakistani aviation officials said today that the plane never entered their airspace.

"We have information that a plane went missing on the Herat-Kabul route but no plane has entered Pakistani territory and no plane has made contact with any air control tower," said Abid Rao, deputy chief of Civil Aviation for Pakistan. "We have checked all of our stations."

The manager of Peshawar airport, Syed Zahoor Ali Shah, also said his staff had no word of the plane.

"It is not possible that a plane would land in Peshawar and we would have no information," he said.

Fedayi, who went to Kabul airport along with worried government officials this morning, said Kam Air had had no contact with the plane, which was carrying 96 passengers and eight crew members, since about 3pm yesterday.

He said the plane had radioed the main US military base at Bagram, north of Kabul, during the flight to check on the weather, but didn't ask the American controllers for permission to land.

Fedayi said the pilot held a Canadian passport, but had no details on the nationalities of the others on board.

The company's flights are popular with Afghans wealthy enough to avoid long journeys over bumpy roads. Aid workers also use them, though most opt for special flights operated by the UN or foreign contractors.

Like much of Afghanistan, the border is dominated by high mountains, raising the hazards for planes flying in bad weather and for any search operation. The area is so remote that officials suspect militants including Osama bin Laden have hidden there since the fall of Afghanistan's former Taliban government in 2001.