A Pakistani passenger jet with 127 people on board crashed into wheat fields Friday as it was trying to land in bad weather at an airport near the capital, Islamabad, officials said. Sobbing relatives of those on the flight flocked to the airport as a government minister expressed little hope of finding survivors.
In a state of shock, he then slumped on the floor and sat silently as other relatives of passengers crowded around lists of those on board. The uncle of the sisters, 18 and 20, said they were supposed to return to Islamabad on Sunday but flew early to see an aunt who is visiting from London. “We don’t even know when or where we will get to see their bodies,” said the uncle, Qamar Abbas, who kept mumbling “no, no, no” to himself.Nearby, relatives of passengers hugged each other and sobbed. One man cried “my kids, my kids”. Among them was Zarina Bibi, desperate to determine whether her husband was on the flight. “He called me before leaving Karachi but I don’t know if he was on this flight or not,” said Bibi, whose eyes were red from crying.The locals have been somewhat lucky as the plane landed in a relatively open space and their lives were spared. Parts of the aircraft however smashed into electricity poles, blanketing the area in darkness.Residents said they had seen a ball of fire in the sky when the plane crashed though initial unverified reports blamed bad weather marked with heavy downpour for the crash. Bhoja Air said the airplane crashed during its approach in Islamabad due to bad weather. There was no indication from the government that it could have been the result of foul play.Investigators were successful in finding the Black Box, the electromagnetic instrument that maintains flight record and is considered the most potent source of information vital to find the cause of any accident.“This is a very unfortunate incident and a very sad day for Pakistan. My heart felt condolences are with the victim families. Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told The Nation by phone.“On one had the bad weather got our brothers trapped in Gayari while on the other hand, it took 127 precious lives here… I’ve ordered a detailed inquiry into the incident and instructed the Civil Aviation Authority DG to submit the report at the earliest.”CAA DG Captain Nadeem Yousufzai also rejected the reports that the crashed Boeing 737 was not fit for flight and CAA navigational system was not operational.“These are just speculations.
The Boeing 737-200 was 28 years old and had been bought on dry lease from a South African company, a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) official who asked not to be named told AFP.
A Bhoja Air official insisted that despite its age, the plane was safe to fly. "The aircraft was old and second hand but it is not something unusual. The fleet of state-run Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) also runs old aircraft," Bhoja Air official Masham Zafar told AFP.
"Airlines rarely have brand new planes, and this aircraft was also refurbished. "There was no technical issue and bad weather is to be blamed. The plane left with CAA certification after normal check at Karachi airport and it was given clearance by the CAA to land at the Islamabad airport."
Bhoja Air was one of the first private airlines to set up in Pakistan after the country's skies were opened up beyond the national flag-carrier Pakistan International Airlines in 1993.
It began domestic operations in the 1990s and ran international flights as far a field as the United Arab Emirates, but had its licence suspended in 2000 after failing to pay dues to CAA.
"The company's licence has been restored in March this year permitting them to operate domestic flights after it assured us that it would repay the longstanding dues and keep up with the standard procedures," the CAA official said.
"It was the first evening flight for Islamabad, which met (with) the huge tragedy." The official said that aside from the plane which crashed, Bhoja has another 737-200 in use and a more modern 737-400 which is awaiting CAA approval to fly.
Another CAA official said the pilot of the doomed flight Noor Ullah Afridi and first officer Javed Mushtaq joined the airline after retiring as pilots from Pakistan Air Force.
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