New Delhi: A civilian plane crashed in the outskirts of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad near Chaklala airbase due to bad weather and all 127 people on board the flight are feared dead. The Bhoja Airlines-213, a domestic carrier that has just four planes and only resumed operations last month after suspending them in 2001 due to financial difficulties, was flying from Karachi to Islamabad.
There were 127 people on board the Boeing 737 and the aircraft made last contact with the air traffic control at 6:40 pm on Friday evening. Out of the 127, 118 were passengers and nine were crew members on the ill-fated aircraft. The aircraft was thirty-year old, it was reported.
Pakistan Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said the plane was reportedly seen catching fire before the crash and the authorities are trying to retrieve the black box.
Mukhtar also added that the aircraft was at very low altitude and this airline's license was earlier cancelled due to financial problems.
According to the reports, the plane crashed in a residential area near Rawalpindi Airport. The ATC had given landing clearance to the plane.
Reports coming from the crash site indicated that the debris has been spread over a few kilometres and the survival chances are nil and an emergency has been declared in Rawalpindi.
A violent rain, wind and thunder storm was lashing the capital at the time of the crash, which occurred about 6:40 p.m. local time. "It was really bad weather for a flight," said Navy captain Arshad Mahmood, who lives near the crash site. "The pilot was forced to move down to avoid clouds that were generating the lightening and thunder."
Several farmers threshing wheat in the field near the crash said they saw the craft burst into flames when it hit the ground. Wreckage, including smashed seats, clothes and jewelry belonging to passengers, was spread out over a one-kilometer (half-mile) wide area.
The Benzir Bhutto International Airport was shut after the crash and all flights have been cancelled.
The airliner crashed into a farmland and is completely destroyed says an eyewitness.
Body parts lay among wreckage strewn in a small settlement just outside Islamabad. Residents said they had seen a ball of fire in the sky when the plane crashed. Parts of the plane smashed into electricity poles, blanketing the area in darkness.
Officials gave no immediate indication as to why they thought the plane had crashed.
Emergency workers used flashlights to search among the smoldering wreckage of the fuselage, smashed seats and body parts for any sign of life at the crash site. One rescue official asked villagers to bring him sheets to cover the dead.
A man who had been 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 on the floor and sat silently as other relatives of passengers crowded around lists of those on board.
The uncle of the sisters, 18 and 20, said they were supposed to return to Islamabad on Sunday but flew early to see an aunt who is visiting from London. "We don't even know when or where we will get to see their bodies," said the uncle, Qamar Abbas, who kept mumbling "no, no, no" to himself.
Nearby, relatives of passengers hugged each other and sobbed. One man cried "my kids, my kids". Among them was Zarina Bibi, desperate to determine whether her husband was on the 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.
All hospitals in Islamabad have been put on a high alert following the crash especially Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS).
Bhoja Air started domestic operations in Pakistan in 1993 and eventually expanded to international flights to the United Arab Emirates in 1998. The company suspended operations in 2001 due to financial difficulties but resumed them in 2012.
In a statement, the Boeing Co extended its condolences to the families of the victims and offered technical assistance to Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority.
Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik has asked IG Police Islamabad to oversee the rescue operations. The army and the police have been deployed for rescue operations. Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has ordered an inquiry into the incident.
In July 2010, 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, killing 152 people on board.
With Additional Inputs from Agencies