Pakistan Plane Crashes Carrying 152 People

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[photogallerylink id=15736 align=left]A passenger jet carrying 152 people crashed into the hills surrounding Pakistan’s capital amid rain Wednesday, officials said. At least 25 people were killed and five wounded, but many more were feared dead.

Ramzan Sajid, the spokesman for the Capital Development Authority, told The Associated Press that 25 bodies had been recovered and that rescuers continued to search the area for additional dead and wounded.

The cause of the Airblue crash was not immediately clear, said Pervez George, a civil aviation official. He said the plane had left the southern city of Karachi at 7:45 a.m. for a two-hour scheduled flight to Islamabad and was trying to land during difficult weather. Airblue is a private service based in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports that Pakistan is now in the Monsoon season, when heavy rains and dense cloud move up from the Indian Ocean — and the weather at the scene of the crash was terrible. Some other flights have reportedly been cancelled over the past few days.

“The plane was about to land at the Islamabad airport when it lost contact with the control tower, and later we learned that the plane had crashed,” George said, adding that the model of the plane was Airbus 321 and the flight number was ED202.

Guards with the forestry service said they had found some wreckage and seen at least five dead bodies, said Imtiaz Inayat Ali, an official with Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority. Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said at least five wounded passengers had been rescued.

A senior official with Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority told CBS News’ Farhan Bokhari the government had ordered an urgent investigation into the plane’s “unusual flight pattern” in the moments before the crash.

According to the CAA, investigators were specifically looking at the aircraft’s descent to 2,300 feet above sea level as it approached from the north of Islamabad, before flying back up to 3,000 feet and then suddenly crashing into the hillside.

“The unusual pattern may hold the key to finally unlocking the mystery behind this air crash,” the CAA official said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of grieving friends and relatives of passengers gathered along Islamabad’s Margalla Road, which runs parallel to the hills, after being blocked by police from driving up to the site of the crash.

“My life has come to a virtual end,” sobbed Sobia Khan, a woman in her 20s who was surrounded by a group of friends. She said her husband was on the flight.

Shakeel Malik, a young engineer whose sister-in-law was on the ill-fated flight tearfully told CBS News his wife had to be sedated she was so distraught. “We have no hope of her survival,” said Malik.

Pakistani news channels showed what appeared to be wreckage of the plane as a helicopter hovered above the heavily forested hills to assess the situation. Fire was visible and smoke was blowing up from the scene. The army said it was sending special troops to the area to help out along with helicopters.

At the Islamabad airport, hundreds of friends and relatives of those on board the flight swarmed ticket counters desperately seeking information. A large cluster of people also surrounded the list of passengers on the flight, which was posted near the Airblue ticket counter.

“Nobody is guiding anyone. People are running from one counter to another,” said Arshad Mahmood, whose brother, Maulana Nawab Ulhasan, a prayer leader in a town near Islamabad, was on the flight.

“I’m praying for his survival, but I think there is little hope,” Mahmood said.

Arshad Ali said his cousin, Raza Ali, was supposed to be on the flight but missed it in Karachi on his way from Canada.

“We are happy he missed the flight, but things here are in shambles at the airport,” Ali said. “For God’s sake, take care of the worried people, the relatives of those who were on the unfortunate plane. They have no information and are just running here and there.”

Saqlain Altaf told Pakistan’s ARY news channel that he was on a family outing in the hills when he saw the plane looking unsteady in the air. “The plane had lost balance, and then we saw it going down,” he said, adding that he heard the crash.

Officials at first thought it was a small plane, but later revised that. George said 146 passengers were on the flight along with six crew members.

Raheel Ahmed, a spokesman for the airline, said an investigation would be launched, but that for now the focus was to find survivors. The plane was no more than eight years old, and it had no known technical issues, Ahmed said. He added that to his knowledge, the pilots had not sent any emergency signals.

Airblue flies within Pakistan as well as internationally to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and the United Kingdom.

The only previous recorded accident for Airblue, a carrier that began flying in 2004, was a tailstrike in May 2008 at Quetta airport by one of the airline’s Airbus 321 jets. There were no casualties and damage was minimal, according to the U.S.-based Aviation Safety Network.

The Airbus 320 family of medium-range jets, which includes the 321 model that crashed Wednesday, is one of the most popular in the world, with about 4,000 jets delivered since deliveries began in 1988.

Twenty-one of the aircraft have been lost in accidents since then, according to the Aviation Safety Network’s database. The deadliest was a 2007 crash at landing in Sao Paolo by Brazil’s TAM airline, in which all 187 people on board perished, along with 12 others on the ground.

The last major plane crash in Pakistan was in July 2006 when a Fokker F-27 twin-engine aircraft operated by Pakistan International Airlines slammed into a wheat field on the outskirts of the central Pakistani city of Multan, killing all 45 people on board.

In August 1989, another PIA Fokker, with 54 people onboard, went down in northern Pakistan on a domestic flight. The plane’s wreckage was never found.

In September 1992, a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a mountain in Nepal, killing all 167 people on board. Investigators found the plane was flying 1,500 feet lower than it reported as it approached the Katmandu airport.

Copyright, 2010. CBS/AP, All Rights Reserved.

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