Islamabad, December 7 (Reuters): A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-661 carrying over 40 passengers crashed on the way to Islamabad from Chitral on Wednesday at 4:42 pm.
Five bodies have been recovered from the wreckage.
PIA Spokesman Daniyal Gilani said there were 42 passengers, five crew members and one ground engineer on board.
The plane manifest shows there were to be 31 men, 9 women and 2 infants on board, including singer-cum-evangelist Junaid Jamshed and his family, as well as three foreigners.
The flight departed from Chitral around 3:30pm and was expected to land at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport at around 4:40 pm but crashed in Havelian near Abbottabad shortly after a distress call was sent to the control tower.
A government official on the scene told Reuters that there are unlikely to be any survivors.
“All of the bodies are burned beyond recognition. The debris is scattered,” Taj Muhammad Khan, a government official based in the Havelian region,” said..
Khan, who was at the site of the crash, added that witnesses told him “the aircraft has crashed in a mountainous area, and before it hit the ground it was on fire.”
An eyewitness, Jumma Khan, said, “The bodies we have taken out are not intact. They are beyond recognition. We cannot tell women from men… they are just legs and arms.”
Junaid Jamshed On Board
Chitral airport sources confirmed that Junaid Jamshed, his family, and Deputy Commissioner Chitral Osama Warraich were on board the flight and are feared to be among the casualties.
Junaid Jamshed was in Chitral for a Tableeghi mission and was returning to Islamabad when the aircraft crashed. He was scheduled to deliver the Friday sermon at Parliament mosque.
Jamshed was a prominent member of Pakistan’s Tableeghi Jamaat, a global Islamic revivalist movement with an aim to urge Muslims to return to primary Sunni Islam.
Jamshed rocketed to fame in Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s as the singer for the Vital Signs rock group, and later launched a solo career, with a string of chart-topping albums and hits.
The ATR reportedly crashed at Saddha Batolni village near the Pakistan Ordinance Factory, Havelian, PIA said.
Army troops and army helicopters were mobilised to the site and five bodies have been recovered from the plane wreckage, Inter-Services Public Relations said.
The terrain is rugged and rescue and recovery operations are being hindered because of nightfall and the cold. Sundown in Havelian took place at 4:57pm today. Weather conditions were reportedly clear with almost no wind.
Ambulances are unable to reach at the site of the accident as the aircraft crashed on mountainous terrain.
Eyewitnesses said the damage on the ground is “substantial”.
A rescue team member, Kashif, speaking to state television said: “We put the fire out by putting sand on the branches and area surrounding the crash site. The debris could have been scattered about 100 meters out. The plane actually fell in a canal behind the mountains so the debris is not very scattered.”
“People on the ground told me that the plane dragged two or three times before it fell into a tank of water. There is no question of landing in this terrain for helicopters or planes. There are settlements on both sides of the crash site.”
“We looked far and wide for scattered remains or bags but could not find any. The debris is limited to one area.
Junaid Jamshed’s visiting cards and ID cards have been recovered by a member of the rescue team,” Kashif said.
Fashlights and cellphone lights are being used to locate the debris.
“There are dozens of police and rescue officials. About 20-30 villagers have also reached the spot. Locals are using the hot metal plates of the plane to dig up mud and put out the fire.”
“The priority is to recover bodies. Then will come the recovery of the parts of the aircraft. I am told that the remains of 15-16 people have been recovered.”
“Five to six bodies were recovered from one spot, near the spot where the engine was seen. One was found 50 meters from the site. None are identifiable,” he added.
Bodies recovered from the debris have been sent for DNA testing to Ayub Medical Complex as they are not identifiable, according to local media reports.
He added that the ATR-42 aircraft which was “nearly 10 years old” claimed that it was “in good condition”.
Global aviation watchdog Aviation Herald said that PK-661 crashed near Abbottabad due to engine problems. TV reports also point towards a fault in the left engine, and ascribe blame to a technical fault in the aircraft.
These claims have not been verified by the PIA.
“It remains to be seen if this was a technical fault,” Air Marshall (R) Shahid Latif told Express Tribune.
“In Pakistan, there is a big question regarding whether international safety standards are followed when it comes to aircraft.”
“Did the pilot make a detailed call to explain what happened? We do not have this information at this point.”
He adds: “In an emergency landing, a plane is supposed to land at the nearest place. Perhaps they did not have this choice… perhaps the plane was not in good flying condition. If the pilot is not able to sustain the flight of the plane then a crash is inevitable.”
The technical crew can diagnose a problem remotely but they cannot fix the issue till the aircraft lands.”
“Unfortunately, if an engine develops a fault mid-flight then tragedies like these take place.”
He also said Pakistan bought the ATRs some time ago. “We had smaller planes which were discontinued and got the ATR instead. They have been flying and there have no problems as such.”
He added that they are used on short routes routinely. “To my knowledge there has been no report of a technical problem in the ATRs.”