ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistan International Airlines passenger plane with at least 48 people aboard crashed into a mountainside Wednesday in northern Pakistan, leaving a trail of flaming wreckage across a steep slope. There were no survivors, the head of the airline said.
Pakistan’s military said remains of victims were recovered as crews combed the rugged crash site about 45 miles northwest of Islamabad, the destination of the domestic flight.
A security official said body parts were scattered over a wide area. “There is no body in complete form,” added the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
“I saw arms, legs and flesh of the dead bodies on the ground,” the official said. “There is no chance of any survivor.”
Muhammad Azam Saigol, chairman of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), later confirmed that all passengers and crew were killed in the crash, which he described as an apparent “accident.” However, he also told reporters that the pilot informed ground controllers that one of the plane’s engines had stopped working.
“We were hopeful that the pilot would land safely at the airport, but then contact was lost,” he said.
Earlier, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, Pervez George, dismissed as “premature” reports by Geo News channel that quoted a senior aviation official as saying that the plane possibly experienced engine problems.
Saigol denied local media reports that the pilot ignored warnings from ground engineers of a “technical fault” with the twin-engine plane before the flight. He said the aircraft was technically cleared to fly, adding without elaboration: “Apparently, it seems it was an accident.”
The airline chairman said that the plane’s black box has been found and that an investigation is underway. The cause of the crash “will be known once the investigation is completed,” he said. “Now our focus is on removing the dead bodies.”
The PIA plane had departed from Chitral, a city near the Afghan border that is famous for tourist resorts and rugged mountain peaks, and was more than halfway through the flight to Islamabad when it lost contact with ground controllers.
A villager, identified as Tehseen by Pakistani TV, said local residents were the first to reach the crash site and tried to put out the flames with mud. It took hours for rescue teams to arrive.
“It is a very difficult terrain where the plane crashed,” Muhammad Naeem Khan, a senior security official, told The Washington Post.
PIA spokesman Danyal Gilani said the flight had 42 passengers — including two infants — as well as five crew members and one ground engineer. Earlier, PIA said “about 40 people” were aboard the ATR-42, a twin-turboprop build by a European consortium.
The plane was manufactured in 2007 and entered service with PIA this year, Saigol said.
Among those on the flight was a renowned Pakistani singer-turned-Muslim preacher, Junaid Jamshed, who was accompanied by his wife. Jamshed gained fame with a string of rock hits in the 1980s before joining an ultraconservative Islamic group 15 years ago.
A statement by Pakistan’s armed forces said soldiers and helicopters joined the recovery efforts near the town of Hawalian in the Abbottabad district. Abbottabad was the hideaway of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in 2011 in a U.S. commando raid on his compound.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered condolences to “the families who lost their dear ones.”
The last major crash involving an ATR-42 model was in February 2015, when a TransAsia Airways plane, carrying 58 people, went down in Taipei, Taiwan. More than 40 people were killed.
In Pakistan’s worst air disaster, an Airblue Airbus crashed before landing in Islamabad in 2010, killing all 152 people on board.
Tributes filled social media for Jamshed, who was a frequent guest on popular Pakistani television shows and was associated with a clothing line that carried his initials JJ.
Although he embraced strict Islamic traditions, Jamshed was seen as a high-profile opponent of militant Islamists. Hard-line critics called his views too liberal. Earlier this year, he was assaulted by suspected extremists.
Murphy reported from Washington. Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, and William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.