Almost 130 feared dead in Pakistan air crash

Pilot was preparing to land when the plane crashed in bad weather on farmland near capital

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The Independent Online

A plane with 127 people on board crashed in bad weather near Pakistan's capital Islamabad yesterday – there are no reports of survivors.

Defence minister Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhar told reporters the Boeing 737-200 from Karachi was preparing to land when it came down around 6.30pm local time on farmland a few miles from Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport.

Television images showed heavy rains and wind lashing the crash site near Hussain Abad village, near Bahria town.

Witnesses, who reported to hearing a loud bang, also said they believed the Bhoja Airlines plane, which had 118 passengers and nine crew on board, was already in flames when it crashed.

Emergency services teams have been working overnight in the dark with many using flashlights to comb the area.

Parts of the plane, including a wing and engine, were found up against a small building. Bodies are also reported to be strewn over a large area. Officials said they doubted there would be any survivors. "We can see the plane's wreckage is on fire and we are trying to extinguish it. We are looking for survivors," said emergency services official Saifur Rehman, according to Associated Press new agency. It is likely to take investigators weeks to determine the cause of the crash.

One report suggested the plane was at least 40 years old and had previously been the focus of safety concerns. It said Bhoja Airlines had bought the aircraft from Shaheen Airlines. The latter was reported to have allegedly scrapped it after it was deemed unworthy.

According to Associated Press, Bhoja Airlines started domestic operations in Pakistan in 1993 and eventually expanded to international flights to the United Arab Emirates in 1998. But the airline suspended its operations more than 10 years ago, in 2001, due to financial problems. It had only re-opened again last month.

The last major plane crash in the country – and Pakistan's worst ever – occurred in July 2010 when an Airbus A321 aircraft operated by Airblue crashed in the hills overlooking Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board.

A government investigation blamed the pilot for veering off course amid stormy weather. The impact of the crash was devastating, scorching a wide area of the hillside and scattering wreckage over a mile. Most bodies were so badly damaged that identification required DNA testing.