27 years on, flight PK-404 still a mystery

Published: August 29, 2016


GILGIT: It was a sunny day on August 25, 1989, when a Pakistan International Airline’s flight, PK-404, touched down on the narrow runway of Gilgit airport. The plane, Fokker-F27 Friendship, taxied to a halt at the terminal. The passengers exited and the crew began preparing for the return flight to Islamabad.

The plane, with 54 passengers— five crew members and 49 passengers— on board took off at 7:35am. Among the passengers were four members of a family. But soon after the take-off, the aircraft disappeared without a trace, fuelling speculation that it might have been downed by India’s army near the Line of Control (LoC).

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Almost 27 years on, the mystery could not be resolved.

According to reports, the flight, a Fokker-F27 Friendship, disappeared shortly after take-off. It is claimed that one of the pilots had made a routine radio call at 7:40am, the last communication the aircraft made. The aircraft is believed to have crashed in the Himalayas, but the wreckage has not been found till date. The military launched massive search operations in the snow-capped mountains for several days following the tragedy but to no avail.

“It’s a tragedy that we cannot forget about,” said Arif Hussain, relative of the passengers who had switched their flight. “Who knew they would die this way, or even share the same fate.”

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“We have accepted that they are no more but this date revives our wounds every year,” Hussain shared with The Express Tribune.

Hussain lost his uncle, aunt, wife and two children in the incident.

“My uncle was an assistant commissioner in Mardan town and had just been promoted as deputy commissioner then.”

Many others like Hussain have gone through the trauma of losing their loved ones in the incident.

“We were in Peshawar when the plane disappeared,” Maria Jabeen, another victim of the tragedy said.

“My grandmother and uncle were on-board.”

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Jabeen, who is also from Gilgit-Baltistan, said her uncle was in his 20s and was a bright student. “My father gets sad whenever he remembers him and that’s how it saddens all of us.”

Khursheed Khan lost his elder brother, Qari Basheer Ahmed, in the incident.

“There have been many versions to this mystery. The one I lived with is that it was shot down by India for allegedly crossing the Line of Control,” says Jan.

Even decades after the tragedy, relatives of the victims wonder why successive governments have closed the chapter on the sad episode.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2016.


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Reader Comments (18)

  • Adeel
    Aug 29, 2016 - 9:15AM

    May Allah give the families much sabr and grant the deceased Jannat ul Firdous, AmeenRecommend

  • NKAli
    Aug 29, 2016 - 9:46AM

    Yes, the nation needs to know the fate of flight PK-404. Whatever, the investigations may be, an aircraft just can’t disappear into thin air. Or can it? Is there another Bermuda Triangle? The Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared over the Indian Ocean a year ago is another mystery. However, a small and nondescript news item said that the US and Thai navies were conducting live ammunition naval exercises in that area. May Allah Almighty rest the departed inPeace. Ameen n Salams. Recommend

  • ironMan!
    Aug 29, 2016 - 9:53AM

    coincidence flight number was “404 – Error. Not Found!” Sad. May their souls rest in peace.Recommend

  • Ameen
    Aug 29, 2016 - 10:15AM

    It is very obvious that why the chapter was closed. The Indian shot down the plan assuming it be a fighter jet. Later, having found it to be a passenger aircraft, they feared negative response from the whole world. They entered into a deal with PPP government which was in power in Pakistan. PPP government was offered heavy money to close the case and declare that the search was unsuccessful and not blame India for anything. The PPP government agreed, the amount was paid which went into their pockets and the case was buried under Himalayas for good. This is the reality why it has never come up again.Recommend

  • Farooq RA
    Aug 29, 2016 - 10:54AM

    @Ameen: The pilot of the unfortunate aircraft had taken the aircraft across the LOC on a previous occasion, over the Indian defence installations. This prompted an official warning from the Indians that if the aircraft veered over into their territory again, it will be shot down. The pilot was informed of this warning specifically. Unfortunately, the pilot did not seemed to have heeded the warning, resulting in the tragedy and because of his mistake, Pakistan kept mum about the whole accident(India shooting a Pak civilian aircraft) which would have resulted in a massive pubic backlash, had it been made public. So the civ-mil have kept quiet about it.Recommend

  • khurram shahzad
    Aug 29, 2016 - 12:25PM

    I really intend to make film on it. In Sha AllahRecommend

  • rich
    Aug 29, 2016 - 12:46PM

    the comments are wow

    india shot the plane down case closed

    it was covered up

    but they forget for such coverup many people are involved, somebody would spek up ater almost 3 decades, as they grow old and consciences pricks them

    in india a few years back a indian military plane lost in the himalays was found after over 50 years

    a british plane lost in ww2 in the himalays was found in 2014

    people forget himalays are huge and the gorges are deep and steep,and snow cover everything immediately Recommend

  • Uncle Tom
    Aug 29, 2016 - 1:17PM

    Nowadays its considered a mystery when PIA Flights arrive and leave on time….Recommend

  • mansurulbari
    Aug 29, 2016 - 2:42PM

    It is not unusual to hide enquiry reports, not a single report has been published Recommend

  • extraneous
    Aug 29, 2016 - 3:33PM

    Yeah right, India shot down that aircraft. Lets call the passengers martyrs and evade any investigation or accountability. In our aviation industry, it shall always be pilot’s fault, or, sometimes, neighbor’s. After all, our authorities cant sell the same story every time. There has to be some diversity.Recommend

  • Jahangir Chauhan
    Aug 29, 2016 - 5:08PM

    If the wreckage never found the the picture in the story is of which plane and place?Recommend

  • Sid
    Aug 29, 2016 - 7:09PM

    It was shot down by Indians in error. The Recommend

  • Sam
    Aug 29, 2016 - 9:48PM

    Sad that PPP govt choose to play politics over lives of innocent people. Atleast they should have asked for hanging of folks who downed the civilian plane – not to mentioned their incompetence for not being able to distinguish a civilian and military plane. Or they did it on purpose which means it should have been answered back with appropriate response.Recommend

  • Sal
    Aug 29, 2016 - 9:52PM

    Any evidence of this claim you are making?Recommend

  • Aziz Qureshi
    Aug 30, 2016 - 12:21PM

    We lost my sister, her three children and her husband on this plane. The pain has not gone away with time and trauma continues especially on August 25. There is no closure. I know what the other relatives mentioned in the story are feeling.
    I thank The Tribune for running this article. Through this comment, I would like to ask the CAA, PIA and the Government of Pakistan to create an honourable memorial plaque for the passengers and crew lost on this flight at both Islamabad and Gilgit airports. In this I hope I have the support of all the victims’ families, and all Pakistanis.Recommend

  • simzy
    Aug 30, 2016 - 2:50PM

    May Allah give the families much sabr and grant the deceased Jannat ul Firdous, AmeenRecommend

  • javed Ali
    Dec 14, 2016 - 1:03PM

    Let me solve the mystery. I have a first hand information on it. It mistakenly crossed the LOC and was gunned down by the Indians. The wreckage is still there and both sides instead of accepting their mistakes have decided to hide the facts. Recommend

  • Govind
    Dec 17, 2016 - 4:10PM

    It is quite obvious that the plan crossed over to the Indian Side and it was shot down by the Indians. It suits both countries to keep quite over the matter. Indians cannot say to the world that they shot a civilian plane my mistake and the pakistanis cannot give a reason , why the plane went across the LOC. My heart goes for the poor souls who died . They deserved a better end. Didn’t they? Recommend

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