Airbus crashes near Islamabad; all 152 aboard killed, including 2 Americans

A Pakistani passenger plane with 152 people on board crashed into the hills surrounding Islamabad on Wednesday morning. A Pakistani official said no one survived the crash.
Map showing where the plane departed Karachi at 7:50 a.m. for the two-hour flight to Islamabad.
By Shaiq Hussain
Thursday, July 29, 2010

ISLAMABAD -- A passenger plane crashed into the hills surrounding Pakistan's capital Wednesday morning and officials said all 152 people on board -- including two Americans -- were killed.

The Airbus A321, operated by Airblue, a private aviation service, was arriving from Karachi and trying to land in Islamabad in a heavy monsoon downpour. It crashed in the nearby Margalla hills.

Television footage of the fiery crash site showed fog and smoke rising from the mountains.

Burning wreckage of the fuselage, wings and engines was scattered across the forest floor, and twisted metal parts hung from trees.

Initial reports indicated that five injured survivors were being transported for medical treatment, but officials later said all 146 passengers and six crew members were killed.

Richard Snelsire, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, said two Americans were among the dead. Their names were not released, and no additional information about them was available.

The plane departed Karachi at 7:50 a.m. for the two-hour flight to Benazir Bhutto International Airport in the capital.

"It is not yet clear what is the actual cause of the plane crash," Pervez George, a civil aviation authority spokesman, said in an interview, but he speculated that bad weather played a part. He said the control tower lost contact with the plane as it was about to land. "We got the news later that it had crashed in the Margalla hills."

Islamabad police chief Bin Yamin said rescue teams from the police department, army and other organizations rushed to the crash site, which was difficult to access because of the area's thickly wooded forest. Television footage showed rescuers walking single-file up a mountain trail.

A huge explosion was heard after the crash, and the fire spread fast in nearby tree-covered hills, Yamin said. Smoke could be seen rising from the crash site.

"We will provide the details about the passengers when we get them, but at the moment all we could say is that it's an unfortunate incident and a big tragedy," Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

A witness, Shahid Ameen, who was in a nearby residential area at the time of crash, said he saw the plane with a low flight pattern. He said it looked "as if the plane had lost balance before I saw it coming down."

Hussain is a special correspondent.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company