Misinformation was the word of the day when flight ED202 crashed into the Margalla hills near the federal capital.
Relatives of those on board the plane swarmed Islamabad airport on Wednesday and the following days, to get details about their loved ones or to pick up relatives of the deceased who were flying in from Karachi.
They had several complaints about authorities at the airport, and the ‘information’ counter that was meant to give people details about passenger lists and special flight arrangements.
As soon as news of the crash aired on TV, people tried calling the airport to confirm the tragedy. Not getting a response, desperate relatives rushed to the airport to get information.
Benazir International Airport had set up a public information cell at the Federal Investigation Agency counter to provide information, but the counter did not have on hand the kind of details relatives were looking for.
Ashraf Mehmood had come to the airport to collect his elder brother Nawabul Hassan who was coming from Karachi. “We have been here since 9:00 am,” he told The Express Tribune. “The information cell has only assured that my brother’s name was on the list of the passengers who boarded the plane, and nothing else.”
Asif Zeeshan had come to pick up his 30-year-old cousin Naveed Chaudry, and said: “I have been waiting for the past two hours and there is no information, except the names in the list.”
Special arrangements made to fly relatives in from Karachi were not shared with all authorities either. When The Express Tribune approached the information cell and asked for information about special flights being arranged for friends and families travelling from Karachi to Islamabad, the staff at the counter denied having any knowledge of special flights. However, when a senior official at the Civil Aviation Authority was contacted, he confirmed that special flights had indeed been arranged and would arrive soon.
“Instead of helping the people and providing information themselves, the staff at the reservation and ticketing booth were telling families to consult the media,” said Asad Baig, a media representative.
On Wednesday, flight PK 308 arrived in Islamabad at about 6 pm carrying family members of the deceased. Relatives complained that they had to fly on Pakistan International Airlines because Airblue’s services were inadequate. Nasreen, who lost her son in the crash, said tearfully: “We had to come by PIA as Airblue was not cooperative.” Her sister Afroz added that: “First Airblue had announced they would give out ‘buy one get one’ free tickets for family members, but that did not happen and we came by PIA.”
Passengers were left to rely on the kindness of strangers, which was displayed in abundance. Outside Benazir International Airport on Wednesday stood a man along with four friends, holding up a sign indicating that he would voluntarily drive friends and family members of the deceased to their hotels.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2010.