Air traffic blunder may have caused crash that left 152 dead in Pakistan

Pakistan is marking a national day of mourning after the largest plane crash in the country's history yesterday left no survivors.

Airblue flight 202 was carrying 152 people from Karachi to Islamabad when it crashed into the Margalla Hills on the northwest edge of the capital amid heavy rain and thick fog yesterday morning.

"There are no survivors," Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, told reporters. Several hours after the crash, rescue workers were still combing through the devastation amid the heavily forested area in search of bodies. The plane had been carrying 146 passengers and six crew-members.

So far, some 100 dead bodies have been recovered, but bad weather frustrated rescue efforts as nightfall was setting in.

"We have suspended the air operation because of rain," a senior Islamabad official, Aamer Ali Ahmed, said. "There's no way to transport bodies from the site except via helicopters and even helicopters can't land there."

The precise reasons for the crash were yet to be established. Mr Malik suggested that there was some confusion between air traffic control at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International airport and the pilot of the Airblue airline's Airbus A321.

But as a pall of gloom settles on Pakistan this morning, troubling questions remain for the families of the dead mourning their loss. Given the bad weather, many ask why the plane was not diverted, as two earlier flights had been. Local news channels also asked whether Pervez Iqbal Chaudhry, the flight's captain, who had been hired years after retiring from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the national carrier, was too old to be flying.

Ejaz Haroon, the managing director of PIA, also wondered if proper procedures had been followed. "If you look at the position of the wreckage it's clear that the plane went beyond safety margins," he told Reuters. "It should have manoeuvred within five miles of the runway but that did not happen."

The dead included six members of Pakistan's youth parliament, families travelling to the northern areas on holiday, and flight attendants who were the sole income-earners for their families.

The US embassy in Islamabad said that the dead included two American citizens. The consular section of the British High Commission is investigating whether there were any British citizens on the plane.

The plane lost contact with the control room at 10:43am, Islamabad time. Residents of the local area saw the plane flying perilously low before it crashed into the Margalla Hills, setting off a loud noise that was heard in the centre of the capital. For several hours, whirling plumes of white smoke could be seen rising from the crash site.

"The pilot was given directions to land either on runway one or two," Mr Malik said. "The plane was at 2,600ft before landing but suddenly it went to 3,000ft, which was unexplained."

He added that instead of approaching the airport from the "Kahuta side", a nearby town to the east, it attempted to land from "the Murree Road side", located to the north.

The plane's final moments are likely to remain a mystery until the black box flight recorder is recovered and studied. The flight had been descending as heavy monsoon rain and thick fog reduced visibility. For reasons that remain unclear, the plane turned northwards, flying for some 10 miles before crashing into the hills.

Airblue, the private carrier that owned the plane, maintained that poor weather was to blame for the crash. The private airline, which also flies to Britain among other international destinations, is well regarded and boasts a fleet of modern planes. The Airbus flying from Karachi was eight years old. It was the airline's first crash.

Grief and panic animated the waiting areas at Karachi and Islamabad airports and the capital's hospitals as relatives and friends of the passengers spent hours anxiously awaiting news. But there were no survivors among the bodies recovered, many of them charred and disfigured beyond recognition.

For Pakistanis, the crash is the latest in a series of tragedies that has seen nearly 1,000 people die in the past six weeks. The bulk have been killed in Islamist militant bombings that have struck across the country.

Scores continue to be slain in "targeted killings" in the port city of Karachi. Monsoon floods have swept away dozens. And almost every day brings fresh reports of suicides committed by those who cannot feed themselves or their families.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?