Lahore : A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-661 carrying over 40 passengers crashed on the way to Islamabad from Chitral on Wednesday. Five bodies have been recovered from the wreckage.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) put the number of people on board at 47 but Sohail Ahmed, a PIA official in Chitral, said there were 41 people on board, including four crew members.
The plane manifest shows there were to be 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.
The flight 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.
A government official on the scene told Reuters that there are unlikely to be any survivors.
“All of the bodies are burned beyond recognition. The debris is scattered,” Taj Muhammad Khan, a government official based in the Havelian region, told Reuters.
Khan, who was at the site of the crash, added that witnesses told him “the aircraft has crashed in a mountainous area, and before it hit the ground it was on fire.”
An eyewitness, Jumma Khan, said, “The bodies we have taken out are not intact. They are beyond recognition. We cannot tell women from men… they are just legs and arms.”
The terrain is rugged and rescue and recovery operations are being hindered because of nightfall and the cold. Ambulances are unable to reach at the site of the accident as the aircraft crashed on mountainous terrain.
Sundown in Havelian took place at 4:57pm today. Weather conditions are reportedly clear with almost no wind.
Eyewitness Junaid Khan told state-owned television that “rescue operations are underway and the bushes near the site of the crash have caught fire.”
“It is difficult to tell how scattered the debris of the plane is because there is no light.”
Junaid Jamshed on board flight
Chitral airport sources confirmed that Junaid Jamshed, his family, and Deputy Commissioner Chitral Osama Warraich were on board the flight and are feared to be among the casualties.
Junaid 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.
Jamshed was a prominent member of Pakistan’s Tableeghi Jamaat, a global Islamic revivalist movement with an aim to urge Muslims to return to primary 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 underway
Army troops and army helicopters have been mobilised to a site near Havelian, Inter-Services Public Relations said. Army troops have recovered five bodies from the plane wreckage.
Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan have directed the concerned federal departments to immediately initiate rescue efforts and help the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, Press Information Department said.
The civil administration has 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” was “in good condition”.
Eyewitnesses said the damage on the ground is “substantial”. There is a fire raging in the village where the aircraft crashed.
The ATR reportedly crashed at the Patola village near Pakistan Ordinance Factory, Havelian, and eyewitnesses reported seeing a plane crash hear Havelian, according to district police officer Abbottabad.
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.”