, SADDHA BATOLNI, Pakistan, Dec 7 – A Pakistani plane carrying 48 people crashed Wednesday in the country’s mountainous north and burst into flames, authorities said, as rescue workers pulled dozens of bodies from the wreckage and officials expressed little hope for survivors.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Flight PK661 came down on a flight from the city of Chitral to Islamabad, the civil aviation authority said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, which occurred near the village of Saddha Batolni in Abbottabad district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The military, which was part of rescue operations, said 21 bodies had so far been retrieved from the wreckage.
“The way the plane crashed and broke into pieces, there is no chance of any survival,” Sardar Aurangzeb Nalota, a local legislator, told AFP.
Villagers were collecting body parts in shawls and on woven beds, he said, while police and rescue teams were searching the site with torches.
“The fuel tank is still on fire. the plane debris is scattered in the mountains and residents told me that it is completely destroyed,” Nalota said.
Ilyas Abbasi, a police official in the nearest town Havelian, said the site was more than four kilometres away over hilly terrain and had to be reached on foot.
The airline said the plane was an ATR-42 turboprop aircraft, which lost contact en route from Chitral.
“A plane has crashed and locals told us that it is on fire,” Saeed Wazir, a senior local police official, said earlier.
– Nation mourns ex-singer –
Among those on board was Junaid Jamshed, a former Pakistani pop star turned evangelical Muslim who was embroiled in a blasphemy controversy in 2014, according to the Chitral airport manager and a local police official.
The singer’s Twitter account had said he was in Chitral.
Tributes were pouring in on social media for the former lead singer of the country’s first major pop band, whose popular “Dil Dil Pakistan” became an unofficial national anthem.
“The voice of my youth, the voice of my generation…. #JunaidJamshed you will be sorely missed,” tweeted user Huma A Shah.
The terrain around Havelian is hilly, roughly the same altitude as the Margalla Hills which overlook Islamabad.
Pakistan’s most recent air disasters involved helicopters, both in 2015.
In May that year a Pakistani military helicopter crashed in a remote northern valley, killing eight people including the Norwegian, Philippine and Indonesian envoys and the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian envoys.
In August 2015 another army helicopter crashed killing 12 people, all military.
The deadliest air disaster on Pakistani soil was in 2010, when an Airbus 321 operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi crashed into the hills outside Islamabad while about to land, killing all 152 on board.
An official report blamed the accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere.
– Chequered history –
But the deadliest accident involving PIA came when an Airbus A300 crashed into a cloud-covered hillside on approach to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu in 1992 after the plane descended too early, killing 167 people.
Despite this, PIA has been crash free for 10 years, and received a 7 out of 7 rating on the highly-cited AirlineRatings.com, which launched its annual listing in 2013.
But a 2014 analysis by US statistician Nate Silver based on data from 1985 – 2014, found the airline to have a consistently high number of what he termed “near-misses” — an indicator of risk.
Most of the carrier’s fleet apart from its latest Boeing 777s were also banned entry from the European Union between March and November 2007.