No survivors – The Express Tribune

ISLAMABAD: It was not until late Wednesday afternoon that the actual scale of the tragedy set in. It was then that all hope – even the slightest strand, slipped away from the families of 152 passengers on board Airblue flight ED 202.

There were no survivors.

At ten-to-ten Wednesday morning, the passenger jet swerved in the hazy skies over Islamabad, ultimately careening into the serene Margalla hills. All that was left is the remains.

The ‘rescue’ operation there was temporarily suspended in the night to resume on Thursday morning. “We have cordoned off the entire area and check posts have been established all around the site. The search and rescue operation will resume in the morning” said the Deputy Commissioner Islamabad, Amir Ali Ahmed.

Most importantly, he added, “We have no confirmation about the recovery of the black box.”

The most important component of the investigations, the black box, could not be found till the time this report was filed.

With the search for the aircraft’s black box still on, all that is known is the reported conversation between the control tower and the captain.

Officials of the Civil Aviation Authority claimed that the pilot of the plane had been warned by the control tower twice before its first failed attempt to land at Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad.

“He was told that he was deviating from the runway. Subsequently, he was asked to turn to his left since he was heading straight towards the Margalla hills. He had replied to both warnings that he could see the runway, before he lost contact with the tower,” said an official.

When he headed towards the Margalla hills, the pilot was again contacted by the Radar tower, the official claimed. “The radar tower warned him that he was entering a danger-zone. The pilot did not reply. The tower again tried to contact him to warn him of his direction but received no reply” said the official.

For now, no one knows for sure what happened. Just that 152 people lost their lives.

The official said that the 62-year-old pilot of the plane, travelling from Karachi to Islamabad, Pervaiz Iqbal Chaudhry, was an experienced and professional pilot.

Over at the site, the scenes were bleak. Merely 15 to 20 dead bodies could be recovered in identifiable form from the site of the crash. Officials from Islamabad administration said there were no survivors. “There are no survivors. Rescue workers are collecting the remains of dead bodies from the site” said Imtiaz Inayat Elahi, the Chairman Capital Development Authority. Interior Minister Rehman Malik also confirmed that no one on the plane survived. There was no official word on the cause of the crash. However, officials of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) feared human error might have caused the plane to careen into the hills since the Airbus A321 had no technical problems and weather was not too bad at the time of crash.

Difficult mountainous terrain and overcast conditions hampered the efforts to access the site of the tragedy. More than two hundred rescue workers, police officials and volunteers, however managed to reach the spot within an hour of the incident. “All we could see were body parts. There were no injured,” said a volunteer Pervaiz Akhtar, who was among the first few people to reach the site of the crash. “We shifted the remains to the top of the hill from where they were lifted by helicopter” he added.

More volunteers and rescue workers reached the site later in the afternoon. It was not before 2:00 pm that the first ambulance carrying the remains left for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) Islamabad. Ambulances could not go beyond the Daman-e-Koh road, but the rescue workers managed to form a track through the thick forest surrounding the crash site to transport the remains on foot. “The forest is very thick. We had to cut the protruding tree branches and remove bushes to make a way for us to approach the site. It took us more than an hour to reach the spot and we walked for over an hour on our way back to Damn-e-Koh Road” said Allah Bakhsh, a rescue worker who, along with a group of volunteers, had brought five bundles of remains to the road from where they were shifted to Pims.

The hospital received remains of over 130 passengers till the filing of this report. At least 24 dead had been identified with the help of their identity documents.

The dead bodies of all identified victims were handed over to their families. The rest will be identified through DNA tests on Thursday. Talking to journalists, Minister for Health Makhdoom Shahabuddin said that DNA tests will be conducted on the remains to determine their identity.

According to eyewitnesses, the airliner hit the ridge on its belly first and then broke into pieces. “It was flying dangerously low. I screamed when it hit the hilltop with a bang. I was sure no one would have survived,” said Mussanif Shah who was an eyewitness of the deadly crash. “We rushed to the place and our fears came true. No one was alive there,” he added.

The official also said that, prior to the ill-fated plane, a Chinese airliner was diverted because of bad weather. In its initial inquiry report, the Civil Aviation Authority has claimed that poor visibility and the plane flying below the given altitude were the causes of the incident.

Experts said the black box, once found, would have to be sent to either France or Bangkok for interpretation of data captured in the box.

Published in The Express Tribune , July 29th, 2010.

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