PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A plane carrying about 48 people crashed on the slope of a mountain in northern Pakistan on Wednesday, with witnesses at the site of the flaming wreckage saying there were unlikely to be any survivors, Reuters reports
The military said 36 bodies had been recovered and rescue efforts involved about 500 soldiers, doctors and paramedics. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said its plane lost contact with the control tower en route to the capital, Islamabad, from the northern region of Chitral.
The airline said the plane crashed at 1642 local time (1142 GMT) in the Havelian area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, about 125 km (77 miles) north of Islamabad. The region is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Pakistan. “All of the bodies are burned beyond recognition. The debris is scattered,” Taj Muhammad Khan, a government official based in Havelian, told Reuters.
Khan, who was at the crash site, said witnesses told him “the aircraft has crashed in a mountainous area, and before it hit the ground it was on fire”. Images shown on Pakistani TV channels showed a trail of wreckage engulfed in flames on a mountain slope.
Irfan Elahi, the government’s Aviation Secretary, told media the plane suffered engine problems but it was too early to determine the cause of the accident. PIA said the plane was carrying 48 passengers, including five crew members and a ground engineer. But Sohail Ahmed, a PIA official in Chitral, said there were 41 people on board, while the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) put the number at 47.
A local trader at the site of the crash said the fire was still burning nearly two hours after the crash. “They are removing body parts,” Nasim Gohar told Geo TV. The military said it had sent in troops and helicopters. A PIA spokesman said the dual turboprop engine plane lost contact with the CAA at about 4.30 p.m.
“PIA is doing everything possible to help the families of passengers and crew members,” the airline said in a statement.
Junaid Jamshed, a well-known Pakistani pop star turned evangelical Muslim cleric, was on board, according to Ahmed, the PIA official in Chitral. Jamshed, a singer in one of Pakistan’s first successful rock bands in the 1990s, abandoned his singing career to join the Tableeghi Jamaat group, which travels across Pakistan and abroad preaching about Islam.
In his last tweet, Jamshed posted pictures of a snow-capped mountain, calling Chitral “Heaven on Earth”. According to the flight manifest, there were three people on board with foreign names. Plane crashes are not uncommon in Pakistan and safety standards are often criticised.
In recent years, media have reported on multiple near-misses as planes over-ran runways and engines caught fire. In 2010, a passenger plane crashed in heavy rain near Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board. Two years later, a plane operated by a private Pakistani company, with 127 people on board, crashed near Islamabad. All on board were killed.
PIA has also suffered major disasters in the past. In 1979 and 1992, PIA jets crashed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Kathmandu, killing 156 and 167 people, respectively.
In 2006, a PIA plane crashed near the central city of Multan killing 45 people.