Bhoja Air crash in Rawalpindi: ‘No chance of survivors’

Boeing 737 of Bhoja Air, travelling from Karachi to Islamabad, was carrying 127 people, all believed to be dead.


Agencies/our Correspondents April 20, 2012

RAWALPINDI: A passenger airliner crashed near Islamabad on Friday while trying to land during a thunderstorm, officials said, with all 127 people on board believed to be dead. 

The Bhoja Air flight from Karachi burst into flames after coming down in fields near a village on the outskirts of capital Islamabad as it tried to land in rain and hail at the city's international airport.

The airline said the Boeing 737-200 was carrying 121 passengers, including 11 children, as well as six crew.

The black box of the ill-fated aircraft has been found, CDA chairman displayed to the media.

Speaking to media early on Saturday, Rehman Malik said that the crash will thoroughly investigated and an investigative committee will be constituted soon which will examine all possible reasons for the crash.

He further said that Farooq Bhoja had been placed on the Exit Control List. He ensured that action will be taken against the culprits.

"There is no chance of any survivors. It will be only a miracle. The plane is totally destroyed," police official Fazle Akbar told AFP from the crash site.

So far 110 bodies have been recovered from the crash site, Brigadier Sarfraz Ali, who is heading the recovery efforts, told reporters.

"We cannot identify them because some of the bodies are not recognisable," he said.

Debris from the crash was scattered over a two kilometre (mile and a half) radius, he said, adding that lights had been brought to the site to allow work to continue through the night.

Torn fragments of the fuselage, including a large section bearing the airline's logo, littered the fields around the village of Hussain Abad, where the plane came down.

Rescue workers in orange jumpsuits and local residents used torches to search through the wreckage after nightfall, assisted by soldiers carrying assault rifles.

Part of the airline's name could be read on a large section of ripped white fuselage from the passenger cabin.

The smell of burning filled the air at the scene and human limbs were scattered in a large area spattered with blood, witnesses said.

An AFP reporter saw an orange flight data recorder in a house where some of the wreckage fell.

Pakistan Navy official Captain Arshad Mahmood said the crash happened as the plane approached the runway to land.

"The weather was very bad, there was hail and thunderstorm. The pilot lost control and hit the ground. It tossed up due to the impact and exploded and came down in a fireball," he said.

Saifur Rehman, an official from the police rescue team, said the plane burst into flames after impact.

"Fire erupted after the crash. The wreckage is on fire, the plane is completely destroyed," Rehman told Geo television.

An airport source said the plane had been due to land at Islamabad airport at 6:50pm but lost contact with the control tower at 6:40pm and crashed shortly afterwards before reaching the runway.

A probe has been ordered into the crash, Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi said, warning that traffic caused by people trying to get to the site was hindering rescue efforts.

"A team of investigators comprising senior civil aviation officials have immediately started investigations," Sethi said.

"We are working under the direct supervision of president and prime minister."

Nadeem Khan Yusufzai, director general of Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority, said initial reports suggested the bad weather was to blame for the crash.

Bhoja Air relaunched domestic operations with a fleet of five 737s in March, according to newspaper reports, when the airline was planning to start flights connecting Karachi, Sukkur, Multan, Lahore and Islamabad.

Bhoja had been grounded in 2000 by the Civil Aviation Authorities amid financial difficulties, the reports said.

The worst aviation tragedy on Pakistani soil came in July 2010 when an Airbus 321 passenger jet operated by the private airline Airblue crashed into hills overlooking Islamabad while coming in to land after a flight from Karachi.

All 152 people on board were killed in the accident, which occurred amid heavy rain and poor visibility.

The deadliest civilian plane crash involving a Pakistani jet came in 1992 when a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a cloud-covered hillside on its approach to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, killing 167 people.

The passenger list can be viewed here.

End of live updates

11: 30pm

Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, while speaking to Express News said that while availability of lights was a problem, all available resources had been deputed at the crash site to look for survivors among the wreckage.

He added that cold stores had been arranged so that body parts of the victims can be preserved till a time all the dead had been accounted for and identified. He said NADRA too had been directed to provide fingerprinting and DNA identification facilities to identify the dead.

Giving details of travel arrangements made for the families of the crash victims, he said that two flights had been arranged to fly to Islamabad on Saturday morning.

CAA authorities say last communication between the ill-fated Bhoja Air plane and Control Tower last took place at 6:40pm. They further revealed that all records of the Air Control Tower has been sealed.

11:15pm

Army officials in charge of the search and rescue operation at the crash site say that they have recovered 110 bodies, which have been dispatched to hospital.

Revealing that efforts to locate the blackbox were so far unsuccessful, he said that due to the jungle terrain over which the plane had crashed and the lack of lights which were available to the forces, search operations had become difficult.

Express News reporter Qamarul Munawar said that army troops were using sniffer dogs to locate the remains of the crash victims.

Heavy rain has started at the crash site.

Speaking to Express News, deputy chief of Pilot North PIA, Inamullah Jan said that flight B4-213 was a 24 year old 737-200. However, he maintained that the aircraft was flight worthy and no aircraft can fly till it has been given a clean bill of health by the CAA.

10:30pm

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik, while talking to Express News from the site of the crash said that orders had been issued from the President to conduct a thorough investigation in to the crash. At the moment, Malik said that he and the Prime Minister were deciding on the level of team that will be set up to lead an investigation into the crash.

He added that while search and rescue operations were still underway, they had yet to find any survivors. He also urged that relatives of the victims should refer to PIMS hospital in Islamabad as all bodies are being sent there, and will be identified.

Confirming that arrangements had been made for the relatives of the victims to be taken to Islamabad, Malik said that not only transport to Islamabad had been arranged, but Islamabad accommodation, and additional shuttle to the hospital is being arraged. “We will extend our complete cooperation to them [relatives of victims],” the Interior Minister said.

Highlighting the obstacles, Malik said that the region where the plane had crashed was engulfed in darkness, and worse still the crash took place over a jungle.

Meanwhile, Bhoja Air officials say plane had been given a clean bill of health before take off

Express News reporter Naeem Khanzada reported that Bhoja Air official Mushtaq while addressing a press conference at Karachi airport had said that flight B4-213 had been cleared by flight engineers before starting its ill-fated journey to Islamabad.

Meanwhile a Bhoja Air official, H. R. Ishaq, who arrived at the airport, was immediately surrounded by relatives of the crash victims. He suggested that the plane had crashed due to bad weather in Islamabad.

He said that relatives of crash victims will be flown by Bhoja Air to Islamabad on Saturday morning free of cost.

Contrary to air traffic control officials, Bhoja Air representatives said that that suddenly all contact was lost just before the plane crashed.

9:58pm

CAA spokesperson Pervaiz George, speaking to the media, said the authority has arranged a hotel in Islamabad for free stay for the relatives of the victims.

He further said that another Bhoja Air plane will arrive in Karachi at around 10:30pm and will fly with the relatives of the victims to Islamabad.

He added that the plane was in a good condition.

9:52pm

Haleem Adil Shaikh, Advisor to Sindh Chief Minister on Relief Affairs, has been at the Karachi airport all evening and has been talking to the press.

Defence Secretary Narjis Sethi told Express News that operation rooms have been established and civil administration in Islamabad has also been activated. “We are doing everything possible.”

9:46pm

Deputy Commissioner Malir has announced that a PIA flight has been arranged and will take passengers' relatives free of cost, reported Mirza.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed grief over the incident.

9:43pm

An official at Islamabad airport said that six flights coming to Islamabad were diverted earlier and landed in Lahore, but the airport has reopened and the flights will start coming back

Eight bodies have been recovered so far and there is no chance of survivors. The wreckage has spread over 1.5km, reported The Express Tribune’s Umer Draz.

A Bhoja Air flight will be leaving around 11 pm with one member from each family of those killed in the crash, reported Shaheryar Mirza.

9:35pm

Defence secretary says Islamabad airport will not be closed.

An investigation team has been formed, headed by Group Captain Mujahidul Islam, on the orders of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

9:31pm

A man who had been at waiting at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport for the flight yelled "my two daughters are dead" as tears streamed down his face.

In a state of shock, he then slumped in a state of shock on the floor and sat silently as other relatives of passengers crowded around lists of those on board.

Among them was Zarina Bibi, desperate to determine whether her husband was on the Bhoja Air flight. "He called me before leaving Karachi but I don't know if he was on this flight or not," said Bibi, whose eyes were red from crying.

9:25pm

“This is not one bit different from what we went through, there is total chaos and there is no one here to help passengers’ families. Only two people are sitting at the desk as before. They are not able to provide a proper passenger list to the public,” Junaid Hamid, AirBlue Crash Affectees Convener, told The Express Tribune correspondent Shaheryar Mirza.

“Last time they weren’t able to give us a flight till early next morning and the passengers this time do not have any answers on when the next flight will be available,” he added.

The worst aviation tragedy on Pakistani soil came in July 2010 when an Airbus 321 passenger jet operated by Airblue crashed into hills overlooking Islamabad while coming in to land after a flight from Karachi.

All 152 people on board were killed in the accident, which occurred amid heavy rain and poor visibility.

9:21pm

Deputy DG of National Disaster Management Authority Mansoor Ahmed told Express News that the rush of the people is hampering the rescue work. “I want to request the people to let our cars reach the area so we can end the operation by tonight.”

Assistant commissioner of the area said that emergency has been declared in all hospitals of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. “Two ambulances just left the site with six bodies. Some bodies were shifted earlier,” he added and requested the people to move away from the area so that the rescue work can be done smoothly.

President Asif Ali Zardari has arranged a chartered plane for the victims’ families to reach Islamabad.

9:14pm

Bhoja Air relaunched domestic operations with a fleet of five 737s in March, according to newspaper reports, when the airline was planning to start flights connecting Karachi, Sukkur, Multan, Lahore and Islamabad.

Bhoja had been grounded in 2000 by the Civil Aviation Authorities amid financial difficulties, the reports said.

9:08pm

Express News correspondent Qamarul Munawwar reported that as all the rescue officials could not reach the site with all their equipment, the locals are helping by providing sheets to wrap the bodies.

He added that not a single body has been taken to a hospital from the site.

9:05pm

A rescue official told Express News that they were facing difficulty in carrying out the rescue operation as the bodies were strewn over a large area and there was very low visibility as there was no light.

"The only light we have is that from cellphones and from cars," he said.

9:00pm

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that wings of the plane caught fire before it crashed. Eyewitnesses said that the plane was struck by lightening.

Ten nearby houses were destroyed, but the residents remained safe.

8:58pm

Bodies are being shifted to hospitals.

CAA rescue team has been tasked to search the black box of the plane.

Islamabad airfield has been closed till midnight.

8:50pm

Dead bodies are strewn over a large area.

CDA teams, locals and rescue officials are present on the crash site and are helping rescue efforts.

Concerned people can call at 92-51-9231453 for information.

8:46pm

An official says this cannot be termed a routine accident.

There were conflicting reports about how many people were on board the plane.

A senior defence ministry official said initial reports suggested there were 126 people on board, Civil Aviation Authority said it was carrying 121 passengers and nine crew, and the chief of Islamabad police Bani Amin told AFP from the crash site that 127 were on board.

8:41pm

"There is no chance of any survivors. It will be only a miracle. The plane is totally destroyed," police officer Fazle Akbar told AFP from the crash site.

8:34pm

Two-kilometre-long traffic jam near Islamabad airport. Ambulances finding it very hard to get through, reports The Express Tribune's Vaqas Asghar.

8:30pm

An eyewitness told Express News," I was parking my car and I felt as if there was an explosion in the air. As plane parts started falling, I felt that I would die too."

Another eyewitness said that at least 5-10 nearby houses have been destroyed and the bodies were strewn over one kilometre.

The plane blew up while it was in the air, said another eyewitness. It was raining and there was lightening when the plane blew up, he added.

"We could not make out the bodies, they were strewn all over along with plane parts," he said.

Javed Malik was the co-pilot of the plane.

8:21pm

Saifur Rehman, an official from the police rescue team said the plane came down in Hussainabad village, about three kilometres from the main Islamabad highway.

"Fire erupted after the crash. The wreckage is on fire, the plane is completely destroyed. We have come with teams of firefighters and searchlights and more rescuers are coming," Rehman told Geo News.

8:18pm

CAA has established a crisis cell at the Karachi airport and relatives of the passengers are asked to call at 92-21-99071384 and 92-21-99071385 for information.

8:15pm

Bhoja Air Public Relations Officer Jasir Abro said, "We want everyone to stop speculating. We’re trying to find out what happened, where, and how it happened. As soon as we find out more information about the crash the list will be made public."

An information desk has been established on the second floor at Domestic Departures at the Karachi airport and the families of the passengers can receive information from there.

8:13pm

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has expressed deep grief over the plane crash. He has directed the CAA to use all resources for the rescue operation, reported The Express Tribune correspondent Sumera Khan.

Group Captain Mujahidul Islam, head of Safety Investigation Board CAA, will lead an inquiry into the incident.

Two operation rooms have been set up at Benazir Bhutto Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Rawalpindi and Jinnah International Airport in Karachi.

8:07pm

Rescue 1122 officials say that no one has survived the crash.

The Express Tribune correspondent Shaheryar Mirza reported that 116 people had travelled on the plane, five were reported to be infants. The flight had six crew members on board.

As many as 100 Army troops have reached the spot and have taken charge of rescue efforts.

Crash site has agricultural land and some residential plots.

7:55pm

Emergency has been declared in all hospitals of Islamabad.

As many as 100 Army personnel are on their way to the crash site for rescue work.

7:53pm

Family members of those on board have started arriving at the airports.

Air traffic control says that they did not receive any distress call from the pilot in the moments before the crash.

7:51pm

Rescue 1122 officials say that the plane has been completed destroyed and it is being feared that there are no survivors.

A witness told Dunya News that dead bodies could be seen lying all around after the jet went down before landing.

7:48pm

Express News Islamabad correspondent Qamarul Munawwar reported that rescue vehicles are still on the roads due to the traffic. The rescue officials claim that CAA is not telling them the exact site of the incident.

7:45pm

CAA former DG Junaid Ameen, talking to Express News, said the bad weather is usually not the cause of plane crashes because planes have equipments which help in dealing with the situation. “Planes are designed to fly in bad weather.”

Air traffic controllers say that the crash happened due to bad weather and confirmed that the plane belonged to Bhoja Air.

Express News correspondent in Karachi, Aftab Ali, reported that five babies were among the passengers.

7:33pm

The plane took off from Karachi at 5:00pm and was supposed to land in Islamabad at 6:40pm but crashed just before touchdown, reported Geo News.

Witnessed told Dunya News that flame could be seen rising from the crash site and the fire has reportedly engulfed several buildings.

Army troops have also been moved to the area where the plane crashed.

7:28pm

Plane was supposed to fly over Jinnah Garden to approach its destination and land at the airport.

The crash site has been cordoned off by Koral police.

7:25pm

Sources say that the plane crashed in a residential area in Jinnah Garden, but it has not been confirmed.

All rescue vehicles of Islamabad and Rawalpindi have been rushed to the spot including fire tenders, but traffic jam near the crash site is hampering rescue vehicles from reaching the site.

7:20pm

CAA authorities have refrained from giving out any official statement.

This was the first flight of Bhoja Air after the service started.

7:17pm

It is currently raining in Rawalpindi and it being suggested that the bad weather could have been the cause of the plane crash.

According to authorities, the plane crashed 10km away from the runway of Islamabad airport, near Chaklala airbase.

Rescue officials from Islamabad and Rawalpindi, as well as the Civil Aviation Authority, have left for the crash site.

COMMENTS (66)

BASHIR KAMIN | 9 years ago | Reply May all those who passed away in the plane crash Rest In Peace. On an another account the shallow and callous response of our media to this is absolutely disgusting. Shoving a microphone in the face of a grieving person whose loved ones have passed away and asking absolutely ridiculous questions like “how do you feel now that he’s gone?” just shows how low channels have stooped.
maha asif | 9 years ago | Reply

The reason for the crash is that while landing somebody switched on their mobilephones to contact their families that they were landing. As soon as they were coming towards the runway a ray of lightning somehow caught the signal and hit the plane. I have this opinion because I've travelled many times by air and also when it is raining or a thunderstorm has hit but there was Alhumdulillah no damage, only some turbulence.

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