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Pakistani plane crashes with 127 people on board

Pakistani plane crashes with 127 people on board

Officials say it is almost certain that all passengers were killed in the crash during stormy weather outside Islamabad

» Aircraft Accidents | Saturday, April 21, 2012 • Air News Times
A Pakistani passenger jet with 127 people on board has crashed on its inaugural flight in stormy weather near Islamabad. Officials said it was almost certain that everyone on board had been killed.

Witnesses said the plane, a second-hand craft leased by private operator Bhoja Air, blew up in mid-air as it was coming into to land.

Debris, including fuselage and bodies, was spread over an area close to the Pakistani capital's airport which was soon inundated by onlookers. Officials said it was almost certain that everyone on board had been killed.

The incident will focus attention on safety standards in an airline industry where there are grave concerns over safety and maintenance in the country's private airlines and the national carrier. A senior air safety officer said one private airline was once caught attempting to repair a damaged aircraft tire by taking it to a car tire puncture repair shop.

Jamal Hussain, a former head of Pakistan's Safety and Investigation Board, said the country's airlines often attempt to cut costs by scrimping on basic maintenance.

"We had a lot of problems with the private airlines, they were just not up to the mark," he said.

"Often they would go to the Ministry of Defence of other ministries and try to exert pressure on us. We used to stand our ground most of the time."

A violent storm had been lashing the capital at the time of the crash, at about 6:40pm on Friday evening.

"I saw nothing but body parts and twisted metal on the ground when I reached the scene," said Mustafa, a local resident. "We collected small pieces of human flesh and bundled them in cloth sheets like we collect grain."

The last big plane crash – Pakistan's worst ever – occurred in July 2010, when an Airbus A321 aircraft operated by Airblue crashed in the hills overlooking Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board. A government investigation blamed the pilot for veering off course amid stormy weather.

Bhoja has had a particularly turbulent history, having been forced to suspend operations more than three times since it was established as a domestic airline in 1993.

It has suffered a series of setbacks, including in 2000, when it was forced to suspend operations after Pakistani authorities revoked its air operator's certificate for failing to pay more than $1m in outstanding dues.

After more than a decade of being grounded, its latest relaunch was last month, when the airline announced it would restart domestic flights after leasing four used Boeing 737-200 aircraft.

Although the airline had been flying between Lahore and Karachi in recent weeks, Friday saw its first flight to the Pakistani capital. The company said it wanted to compete with rivals by offering extremely low prices starting at just £13 to any destination inside Pakistan.

"My brother's wife was on board this flight," said Naveed Khan, who was among family members who gathered at Karachi's airport. "We pray for the departed souls, what else can we do now?"
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