120 bodies recovered after plane crash in Pakistani capital

Story highlights

  • Comair said it operated the plane under the British Airways brand from 1996 until late 2011
  • Head of Bhoja Air can't leave Pakistan without government approval
  • At least 73 of the bodies have been identified, a hospital representative says
  • The cause of the crash is under investigation, but poor weather may have been a factor

The grisly search for remains at the scene of a commercial plane crash in Pakistan continued Saturday, with officials doubting anyone on board survived.

The plane, carrying 127 people, crashed Friday in Islamabad just before it was to land at a nearby airport, according to Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority, which cited poor weather as a possible factor.

At least 120 bodies have been recovered from the scene, Interior Minister A Rehman Malik said. No survivors have been found.

"In the morning we will start to search by helicopters," Malik said overnight, adding that officials could not bring in helicopters on Friday due to bad weather.

The Bhoja Air Boeing 737-200 was en route from Karachi to Islamabad, where the weather was cloudy, officials said.

Malik said family members in Karachi are being flown in to help identify the victims.

Relatives and fingerprints have already helped identify the remains of 73 people taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Dr. Wasim Khawaja said.

Identifying all the bodies -- many of which lie in pieces -- will be challenging, Malik said. He said he hoped DNA technology will help in the process.

From what he's seen, "I don't see any survivor here -- all 127 people seem to be dead," the interior minister said.

The crash occurred near the Chaklala airbase, a military site used by the country's air force, which is adjacent to the Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad.

Debris and body parts were scattered across the crash site as workers sifted through the wreckage in the heavily populated residential area. Four villages were affected by the crash, and debris from the plane has been recovered within a kilometer of the site, Malik told reporters.

More than a 150 bags filled with body parts have been transported to hospitals across the region, according to Farkhand Iqbal, a municipal official in Islamabad.

World's deadliest plane crashes

Malik said he is ready to launch a security probe through the Federal Investigation Agency in case the Civil Aviation Authority's investigation shows evidence of any security breaches. He also said Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered a "high-powered investigation."

Head of Bhoja Air, Farooq Omar Bhoja, has been put on an exit control list, meaning he can leave the country without government clearance, he said.

The flight data recorder, which is considered a key component in determining what may have caused the tragedy, was recovered, officials said Friday.

The Bhoja airliner had been flying from the southern seaport city of Karachi and crashed just before touching down in the capital after its 3½-hour flight.

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Weather reports indicated that conditions in the area included thunderstorms and limited visibility.

Authorities are examining what may have caused the crash and the potential for additional casualties at the site of the wreckage.

Investigators are "going to be looking at technology," aviation security consultant Greg Feith said. "What kind of radio equipment, what kind of ground proximity warning system the aircraft was equipped with, weather radar, things like that ... since the weather may be a factor in this accident."

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Friday expressed "deep shock and grief over the tragedy," ordering his country's Civil Aviation Authority "to gear up all its resources for rescue operation," state media reported.

A separate inquiry into the incident has been launched by Pakistan's Safety Investigation Board, and two crisis operation rooms have been set up at airports in both Islamabad and Karachi to provide information to the affected families.

A Boeing spokeswoman said the American manufacturer "stands ready to provide technical assistance to the Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan."

The airliner was originally sold in 1985, Julie O'Donnell said.

Comair, a South African airline, said in a statement Saturday that it operated the plane under the British Airways brand from 1996 until late 2011.

"The aircraft was retired due to it being too uneconomical for Comair to operate because of its small seat capacity and high fuel consumption," said Comair spokeswoman Nicola Nel. "It was sold to Jet Aviation in Dubai who leased it on to Bhoja Air at the end of 2011. The aircraft was sold in a serviceable condition."

Responding to allegations that the aircraft was not in good condition to fly, Defense Secretary Nargis Sethi told a local television station that the government has initiated "an immediate investigation."

"Whether it was 10, 8 years old, or not airworthy, is something that we can't confirm yet," Sethi said.

But Bhoja Air station manager Zahid Bangish told a Pakistani television station later Friday that the "aircraft was new, not the old one and unairworthy."

The crash is reminiscent of one in 2010, when 152 people were killed as a Pakistani passenger plane crashed on the outskirts of Islamabad. That plane was also was coming from Karachi when it crashed into a hillside while trying to land, officials said at the time.

Four years earlier, another airliner crashed in central Pakistan, leaving 45 dead.

The first known commercial passenger airplane crash occurred in Pakistan in 1953 when a Canadian Pacific DH-106 Comet crashed shortly after takeoff from Karachi. That crash killed 11 people on board.

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