PIA flight PK-661 crashes enroute to Islamabad, no survivors

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A photograph showing the crash site. ─ Local police

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-661 carrying 48 passengers and crew crashed on the way to Islamabad from Chitral on Wednesday at 4:42pm PST. The Civil Aviation Authority confirmed there are no survivors from the ill-fated flight.

Thirty six bodies have been recovered from the wreckage.

PIA Spokesman Daniyal Gilani said there were 42 passengers, five crew members and one ground engineer on board.

The passenger list confirmed there were 31 men, 9 women and 2 infants on board the flight, including singer-cum-evangelist Junaid Jamshed and his family, as well as three foreigners.

A photo of the crash site. ─ Local police

The ATR-42 aircraft departed from Chitral around 3:30pm and was expected to land at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport at around 4:40pm but crashed in Havelian near Abbottabad shortly after a distress call was sent to the control tower.

PIA’s emergency response center can be contacted at 0092-21-99044890, 0092-21-99044376 and 0092-21-99044394.

‘Survivors unlikely’

A government official on the scene said survivors are unlikely.

"All of the bodies are burned beyond recognition. The debris is scattered," Taj Muhammad Khan, a government official based in the Havelian region said.

Khan, who was at the site of the crash, added that witnesses told him "the aircraft has crashed in a mountainous area…before it hit the ground it was on fire."

An eyewitness, Jumma Khan, said, "The bodies we have taken out are in pieces. They are beyond recognition. We cannot tell women from men… they are just legs and arms."

Junaid Jamshed on board

Chitral airport sources and the passenger lists confirmed that Junaid Jamshed, his family, and Deputy Commissioner Chitral Osama Warraich were on board the flight and are assumed to be among the casualties.

Jamshed was in Chitral for a Tableeghi mission and was returning to Islamabad when the aircraft crashed. He was scheduled to deliver the Friday sermon at Parliament mosque. He was a prominent member of Pakistan’s Tableeghi Jamaat, a global Islamic revivalist movement urging Muslims to return to Sunni Islam.

Jamshed rocketed to fame in Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s as the singer for the Vital Signs rock group, and later launched a solo career, with a string of chart-topping albums and hits.

Rescue operations hindered

The ATR turboprop aircraft crashed at Saddha Batolni village near the Pakistan Ordinance Factory, Havelian, PIA said.

Army troops and army helicopters were mobilised to the site and many bodies were recovered from the plane wreckage, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

There are 500 army troops, including doctors and paramedics, deployed at the crash site. ISPR added. Necessary vehicles and army ambulances are also taking part in the rescue operation.

The terrain is rugged and rescue and recovery operations were hindered because of nightfall and the cold. Sundown in Havelian took place at 4:57pm. Weather conditions were reportedly clear with almost no wind.

Ambulances were unable to reach at the site of the accident as the aircraft crashed on mountainous terrain.

‘Unidentifiable bodies’

Eyewitnesses said the damage on the ground is "substantial".

Picking through the wreckage of the plane crash. ─ Local police

A rescue team member, Kashif, speaking to state television said, "We put the fire out by putting sand on the branches and area surrounding the crash site. The debris was scattered about 100 metres out. The plane fell in a canal behind the mountains so the debris is not very scattered."

"People on the ground told me that the plane slammed onto the ground two or three times before it fell into a tank of water. There is no question of landing in this terrain for helicopters or planes. There are settlements on both sides of the crash site."

"We looked far and wide for scattered remains or bags but could not find any. The debris is limited to one area. Junaid Jamshed’s visiting cards and ID cards have been recovered by a member of the rescue team," Kashif said. He added that dozens of police and rescue officials and about 20-30 villagers reached the spot and used the hot metal plates of the plane to dig up mud and put out the fire."

"The priority is to recover bodies. Then will come the recovery of the parts of the aircraft. I am told that the remains of 15-16 people have been recovered…five to six bodies were recovered from one spot, near the spot where the engine was seen. One was found 50 metres from the site. None are identifiable," he added.

Map showing the route of the plane and the crash site.

Bodies recovered from the debris were sent for DNA testing to Ayub Medical Complex as they were not identifiable.

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan directed concerned federal departments to immediately initiate rescue efforts and help the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, Press Information Department said.

The civil administration also sent rescue teams to trace the wreckage and passengers, Radio Pakistan reported.

‘ATR aircraft nearly 10-years-old’

PIA Spokesman Daniyal Gilani said, "A distress call was sent to the control tower… then the incident of the crash was reported."

He added that the ATR-42 aircraft which was "nearly 10 years old" claimed that it was "in good condition".

"PIA is doing everything possible to help the families of passengers and crew members for first hand information regarding the incident and damage."

A list of the passengers on board the flight. ─ DawnNews

PIA has established and Emergency Response Centre at PIA headquarters in Karachi, said a statemetent released by the airline.

“An Emergency Response Center has been established at PIA headquarters Karachi from where senior PIA management has been monitoring the situation since the incident took place,” said the statement.

An inquiry has also been ordered into the incident, added the airlines’s statement.

PIA chairman Azam Saigal and CEO Bernd Hildenbrand also expressed grief and sorrow over the tragic incident involving crash of PIA’s ATR-42.

What may have caused the plane to crash?

Global aviation watchdog Aviation Herald said that PK-661 crashed near Abbottabad due to engine problems. TV reports also point towards a fault in the left engine, and ascribe blame to a technical fault in the aircraft. These claims have not been verified by the PIA.

"It remains to be seen if this was a technical fault," Air Marshall (R) Shahid Latif told Express. "In Pakistan, there is a big question regarding whether international safety standards are followed when it comes to aircrafts."

"Did the pilot make a detailed call to explain what happened? We do not have this information at this point."

He adds: "In an emergency landing, a plane is supposed to land at the nearest place. Perhaps they did not have this choice… perhaps the plane was not in good flying condition. If the pilot is not able to sustain the flight of the plane then a crash is inevitable."

"The technical crew can diagnose a problem remotely but they cannot fix the issue till the aircraft lands."

"Unfortunately, if an engine develops a fault mid-flight then tragedies like these take place."

He also said Pakistan bought the ATRs some time ago. "We had smaller planes which were discontinued and got the ATR instead. They have been flying and there have no problems as such."

He added that they are used on short routes routinely. "To my knowledge there has been no report of a technical problem in the ATRs."

Timeline of air crashes in Pakistan

Following is a chronology of major air crashes in Pakistan or involving Pakistani planes: