ISLAMABAD: The news of the tragic plane crash in Margalla Hills left Islamabad devastated and confused. Two hours after the incident, locals trekking up the site of the crash had swelled up to seven hundred. Some were there for signs of their relatives who were on the fateful flight of Airblue ED 202, others had left offices to volunteer in the relief effort, while many more wanted to see the devastating scene firsthand.
A large number of vehicles were parked on Khayaban-e-Iqbal and Seventh Avenue from where people were trying to reach the site on foot.
The route to the crash site was from the road which leads to Daman-e-Koh and Pir Sohawa. Police had blocked the road some hundred yards after Marghazar Zoo, and their personnel was only allowing the entry of rescue teams, media and politicians.
The next stop was another four kilometres, after which access was blocked to all sans government officials. It was a difficult trek up to the crash site from that point on, with slippery and steep slope along with thick jungle and intermittent rain preventing easy access.
Despite the helicopters hovering above and rescue vans zooming up and down the road, people were not optimistic about the efforts being put in by the government; others were disappointed over being turned away by army personnel. People knew that the rescue workers had a challenging job ahead of them and to dig out victims from the densely forested hills amid trying weather conditions of rain and fog was not going to be easy.
Tahir, a USAID employee, learnt about the crash from his colleagues and rushed to the site around 10am. “It was raining and really difficult to trek on the wet, muddy slopes. The area is inaccessible for even the rescue workers, who are having a tough time searching through the ravines and cliffs,” he said. He was returning after having made a failed attempt to climb up to the point where the crash took place.
Similarly, school children like Shaheer and wage labourers like Shaukat Hussain, went all the way up just to help with the rescue, only to be turned back by the army rangers.
The spirit of volunteerism being highlighted in these incidents was also exhibited on an organisational level. From the National Volunteer Movement’s personnel to Friends of Islamabad Police and Bahria Town Rescue workers, many such teams were present to reinforce the cleaning up operation.
Dr Shehryar was also part of one such group of doctors from Safari Hospital, who had made their way to the site and were returning after a brief and unsuccessful stint. At the time when government officials were claiming that five to seven people had survived, Dr Shahryar said, “Nobody has survived. It’s a very difficult place to even collect dead bodies from.”
Three female workers from PML-N, Zebunnisa Awan from PP-13, Zahida Kazmi and Rubina Shafique claimed to have gone near the site and seen scattered body parts on tree branches. “Why is the government saying that a few have survived when we know that no one has?” one of them questioned.
Another local from Sector F-7/2 Farida Ahmed, was also trying to go up to the top to get a firsthand look of the site. A clinical psychologist in her seventies, she said. “The policeman welcomed me by saying ‘if you are looking for trouble, you have to come to the right place’, but I still want to go up there and see what happened,” she said.
Two friends, Malik Jamshed and Naveed, had come from Lahore for official reasons, but rushed to the site as soon as they heard about the incident. “We have come here to help with the rescue efforts. We know police, alone, cannot do this,” said Malik Jamshed.
Naveed, on the other hand, criticised the army officials for stopping almost everyone. “A few moments ago they were not even allowing Rescue 1122 vans to pass. I just don’t get their logic,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2010.
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