Pak plane crashes near Islamabad, 127 killed

Islamabad:  A passenger plane carrying 127 people on board crashed in bad weather in the outskirts of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on Friday.

Bhoja Air flight B4-213 went down in a farmland just outside Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport near the Chaklala airbase. Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhar said civil aviation officials had reported it was unlikely anybody had survived. 118 passengers and nine crew members were on board the ill-fated aircraft which was on its maiden flight from Karachi to Islamabad. (Top sites on crash) | (Buzz on Twitter)

An airport source said the plane was due to land at Islamabad airport at 6:50 pm (1350 GMT) but lost contact with the Air Traffic Control at 6:40 pm and crashed shortly afterwards before reaching the runway.

"The weather was bad but can't confirm what the actual cause of the crash was," Jaser Abro, spokesperson of the airline said.

It was unclear if any casualties occurred on the ground, but the crash happened in what appeared to be a relatively unpopulated rural area. TV footage showed wreckage of the plane, including parts of what looked like its engine and wing, up against the wall of a small building. Body parts too lay among the wreckage strewn in a small settlement just outside Islamabad. Local residents said they had seen a ball of fire in the sky when the plane crashed. (First pictures of the crash)

"The plane crashed a few hundred yards (meters) away," said Mohammad Zubair, who was threshing wheat. "The flames leapt up like they were touching the sky."

Emergency workers and bystanders were using flashlights to search through the smouldering wreckage and body parts for any sign of life at the crash site. But rescue efforts were hampered by heavy thundershowers in the area.  

Meanwhile, relatives of those on the flight thronged Bhoja Air counters at Karachi and Islamabad airports, crying. One man said on television that two of the passengers, Sajjad Rizvi and Sania Abbas, were newlyweds flying to Islamabad for their honeymoon. Another man, who had been at waiting at the airport for the flight, yelled "my two daughters are dead" as tears streamed down his face. Zarina Bibi, desperate to determine whether her husband was on the Bhoja Air flight, said, "He called me before leaving Karachi but I don't know if he was on this flight or not."

All hospitals in Islamabad and the nearby city of Rawalpindi have been put on high alert after the crash.

President Asif Ali Zardari expressed deep shock and grief over the tragedy and directed authorities to take measures expeditiously. He also promised all possible aid and assistance to the affected families. An inquiry has also been ordered into the incident.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent a message to his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani, condoling the loss of life in the tragedy.

The aircraft, a Boeing 737-200, was 27 years old and questions are being raised about its airworthiness. It was being by operated by Bhoja Air, a domestic carrier that has just four planes and only resumed operations last month after suspending them in 2001 due to financial difficulties. It had started its domestic operations in Pakistan in 1993 and had eventually expanded to international flights to the United Arab Emirates in 1998 before stalling operations.

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 swath of the hillside and scattering wreckage over a kilometre (half-mile) stretch. Most bodies were so badly damaged that identification will require DNA testing.

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