Pakistan mourns victims of its worst-ever air crash

Funeral of air crash victim being held in Pakistan

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Pakistan is observing a day of national mourning following the country's worst-ever air disaster.

An Airbus A321 crashed as it was about to land in the capital Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board.

The domestic flight from the southern city of Karachi was operated by the private Pakistani airline Airblue, which has a good safety record.

Start Quote

The air was heavy with a deathly smell of petrol, smoke and charred flesh”

End Quote Zeesha Zafar BBC News, Islamabad

There is no word on the cause of the crash. It happened in heavy monsoon rain and poor visibility.

The plane - with 146 passengers and six crew on board - was flying at an extremely low level before crashing into the Margalla hills north of the capital, eyewitnesses said.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani declared Thursday a day of national mourning and ordered flags to fly at half-mast across the country.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said 115 bodies had been recovered, but bad weather and difficult terrain had hampered recovery efforts.

Airline response

Passengers' remains were badly damaged in the crash and DNA tests would be used to identify the victims, he told reporters.

Analysis

Airblue is the largest of the private airlines which have sprung up in Pakistan in recent years.

The company and civil aviation officials say there was nothing in conversations between the pilot and the Islamabad control tower that suggests anything was wrong.

Although the country's air industry has been booming, critics say standards have not always kept pace with the increase in services.

Pilots complain they are being forced to fly extra hours which they say leads to fatigue, a claim denied by the airlines.

Aamir Ali Ahmed, a senior city government official, told Reuters news agency: "It's a very difficult operation because of the rain. Most of the bodies are charred."

Rescue worker Dawar Adnan told Associated Press from the crash site: "I'm seeing only body parts. This is a very horrible scene."

So far, only 46 bodies have been identified.

Two Americans were among the victims, a US embassy spokesman said, but gave no further details.

Officials say investigators are still looking for the flight data recorder, denying earlier reports that the "black box" had been found.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says that many flights on the popular route from Karachi to Islamabad have been cancelled in recent days because of the bad weather.

There are already serious questions being asked about why this plane was allowed to fly, and about whether this tragedy could have been averted, our correspondent adds.

There were also complaints about the response of Airblue.

"We didn't get information," says Zulfiqar Qadri, who lost a family member. "They just put a list of dead passengers in our hands."

Airblue spokesman Raheel Ahmed told reporters that the crash had been "an extremely tragic incident" and the plane had no history of technical problems.

It was leased by Airblue in January 2006 and had accumulated about 34,000 flight hours.

Map of Islamabad

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