On Wednesday, a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane carrying 48 people, crashed in a mountain in northern Pakistan and burst into flames killing all of them, including famous pop singer-turned-Islamic preacher Junaid Jamshed and three foreigners.
Jamshed’s brother told the media that his brother and his wife and other members of a ‘Tableegi’ (religious preaching) group were on the flight while returning from a religious tour to Chitral.
In his last tweet, Jamshed posted pictures of a snow-capped mountain, calling Chitral “Heaven on Earth”.
The flight initially left from Peshawar for Chitral and was returning to Islamabad from there before it went off the radar. The plane burst into flames in mountains near Pakistan’s Abbottabad after facing engine problems.
PIA Chairman Azam Saigol while confirming there were no survivors of the tragic plane crash said the aircraft was ‘fit to fly’. Speaking at a news conference, Saigol said the PIA has 11 ATR aircraft in its fleet and they all have been ‘reliable’.
The PIA plane PK-661 crashed in Saddha Batolni village near Pakistan Ordinance Factory, Havelian. The flight came down after one of its two turboprop engines failed.
“The plane which crashed on Wednesday was A-checked in October,” Saigol said in response to rumours about technical issues with the aircraft, adding that this certification is conducted after every 500 hours of flying.
“There is no room of human error regarding fitness certification of the plane, however, the incident will be probed thoroughly,” the PIA chairman assured, hinting at assistance by international agencies in the investigations.
Saigol said “it was our plane and our passengers”, yet contending the air travel was still the safest means of transportation. “We will ascertain the causes of the crash and will inform you,” he told anxious newsmen. “This, however, should not be expected from the PIA that it would fly unfit jets,” he added.
PIA said the captain of the flight had reported losing power in one engine minutes before its plane lost contact with the control tower en route to the capital. A PIA spokesman confirmed that the pilot of the ill-fated plane had given a ‘mayday’ distress call to traffic control before it went off the radar.
Irfan Elahi, the government’s aviation secretary, told media the plane suffered engine problems but it was too early to determine the cause of the accident.
The plane crashed at 4:42 pm local time (1142 GMT). The national carrier’s flight departed from Chitral around 3:30 PM and was expected to land at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport at around 4:40 PM.
Recovery operations continued late into the night at the remote crash site. The Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that there are no survivors from the flight. Rescuers, including hundreds of villagers, pulled the charred remains from the wreckage of the aircraft, parts of which were found hundreds of metres away from the main site in Abbottabad district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Rescue effort involved about 500 soldiers, doctors and paramedics. So far, forty-six bodies have been recovered from the wreckage. The bodies were shifted to the Ayub Medical Centre in nearby Abbottabad, about 20km (12 miles) away.
An AFP reporter at the site said part of the plane was still on fire more than five hours after the crash, as rescuers picked up torn human remains with their hands and placed them in bags before they were taken by ambulance to Islamabad for identification.
PIA Spokesman Daniyal Gilani said there were 42 passengers, five crew members and one ground engineer on board. The plane manifest showed there were 31 men, 9 women and 2 infants on board the flight, including three foreigners, two Australians and one Chinese.
Deputy Director Services Ayub Medical Centre Muhammad Junaid confirmed that at least 25 bodies had been examined up till now and among them, five were identified. The identifies were, Ahsan Ghaffar of Gojar Khan, Sami Ullah of DG Khan and Farhad Aziz, Takbir Khan and Nawaz Khan of Chitral.
Spokesperson Aviation Division Sher Ali Khan informed that the bodies would be shifted to the hospitals in Rawalpindi and Islamabad through helicopters for DNA examination early Thursday morning, and after the requisite tests the families would be allowed to take the bodies for burial.
According to the latest report, the black box of the crashed plane has been recovered. PIA officials confirmed the development. Information recovered from the flight data recorder may prove crucial to the investigation of the reasons behind the plane crash.
Plane crashes are not uncommon in Palistan and safety standards are often criticized. In recent years, media have reported on multiple near-misses as planes over-ran runways and engines caught fire.
The deadliest air disaster on Pakistan soil was in 2010, when an Airbus 321 operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi crashed into the hills outside Islamabad while about to land, killing all 152 people on board.
Two years later, a Bhoja Airline plane, a Boeing 737 with 127 people on board, crashed near Islamabad. All on board were killed.