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Rain hampers plane crash recovery efforts

Emergency teams battled heavy rain and mud today to recover bodies strewn over hills overlooking the Pakistani capital after the country's worst plane crash.

Authorities speculated that monsoon weather may have been a factor in the crash of the Airblue flight from Karachi to Islamabad yesterday. The plane was apparently off course when it slammed into the Margalla Hills, killing all 152 people on board.

Army troops and civilian rescue workers searched a large stretch of the hills scorched by the crash, but tough conditions slowed the pace of operations, said Ramzan Khalid, spokesman for the Capital Development Authority, which helps deal with emergencies. Helicopters could not fly in the heavy rain, he said.

The plane's "black box" flight data recorders have yet to be recovered. Information extracted from them will be key in determining the cause of the crash. Defence minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar and other officials have said the government does not suspect terrorism.

Even when the search is completed, it could take days to identify all the victims with DNA testing since most of the bodies were torn apart and burned in the crash, a grim scene described by rescue workers scouring the twisted metal wreckage.

"There is nothing left, just piles and bundles of flesh. There are just some belongings, like two or three travelling bags, some chequebooks, and I saw a picture of a young boy. Otherwise everything is burned," rescue worker Murtaza Khan said.

The US Embassy said at least two American citizens were on the plane, an Airbus A321, which was carrying 146 passengers and six crew members.

The Pakistani government declared a day of mourning today for those lost in the crash.

As of Wednesday night, when rescue work was suspended until this morning, 115 bodies had been recovered, federal information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said.

The control tower at Islamabad airport lost contact with the plane as it was trying to land on Wednesday morning, said Pervez George, a civil aviation official. Several officials noted the plane seemed to be an unusual distance from the airport nine miles away.

Raheel Ahmed, a spokesman for the airline, said the plane had no known technical issues, and the pilots did not send any emergency signals. Airbus said it would provide technical assistance to the crash investigators.