127 dead after Pakistan plane crash

Pakistan has launched an investigation into the crash of a passenger jet while it was attempting to land during a thunderstorm.

All 127 people on board are believed to have died.

The Bhoja Air flight from Karachi burst into flames on Friday evening after coming down in fields near the village of Hussain Abad, on the outskirts of Islamabad, as it approached the capital's international airport.

The airline said the Boeing 737 was carrying 121 passengers, including 11 children, and six crew.

"There is no chance of any survivors. It will be only a miracle. The plane is totally destroyed," police official Fazle Akbar told AFP from the crash site.

So far 110 bodies have been recovered, said Brigadier Sarfraz Ali, who is heading the recovery efforts.

"We cannot identify them because some of the bodies are not recognisable," he said.

Debris was scattered over a two-kilometre radius, and lights had been brought to the site to allow work to continue through the night.

A probe has been ordered into the crash, Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi said.

"A team of investigators comprising senior civil aviation officials have immediately started investigations," Sethi added.

Torn fragments of the fuselage, including a large section bearing the airline's logo, littered the fields around Hussain Abad.

Rescue workers in orange jumpsuits and local residents used torches to search through the wreckage, assisted by soldiers carrying assault rifles.

The smell of burning filled the air at the scene and human limbs were scattered in a large area, witnesses said.

An AFP reporter saw an orange flight data recorder in a house where some of the wreckage fell.

Pakistan Navy official Captain Arshad Mahmood said the crash occurred as the plane was approaching the runway to land.

"The weather was very bad, there was hail and a thunderstorm. The pilot lost control and hit the ground. It tossed up due to the impact and exploded and came down in a fireball," he said.

Saifur Rehman, an official from the police rescue team, said the plane burst into flames after impact.

"Fire erupted after the crash. The wreckage is on fire, the plane is completely destroyed," Rehman told Geo television.

An airport source said the plane had been due to land at Islamabad airport at 6.50pm (local time) but lost contact with the control tower at 6.40pm and crashed shortly afterwards.

Distraught relatives gathered at the airports in Islamabad and Karachi, searching for the names of loved ones on the passenger list for the ill-fated flight.

"Please don't talk to me, I have just lost my loving father," a teenage boy cried in Karachi.

The government was making arrangements to fly relatives to Islamabad later on Saturday.

Nadeem Khan Yusufzai, director-general of Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority, said initial reports suggested bad weather was to blame for the crash.

Bhoja Air relaunched domestic operations with a fleet of five 737s in March, according to newspaper reports, when the airline was planning to start flights connecting Karachi, Sukkur, Multan, Lahore and Islamabad.

Bhoja had been grounded in 2000 by civil aviation authorities amid financial difficulties, the reports said.

Pakistan's interior minister says the owner of the airline company has been banned from leaving the country amid an investigation into the deadly accident.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Farooq Bhoja, head of Bhoja Air, had been put on the "exit control list," meaning he can't leave Pakistan.

Such a ban is often put on someone suspected or implicated in a criminal case.

The worst aviation tragedy on Pakistan soil Pakistan happened in July 2010, when an Airbus A321 passenger jet operated by the private airline Airblue crashed into hills overlooking Islamabad while coming in to land after a flight from Karachi. All 152 people on board were killed in the accident, which occurred in heavy rain and poor visibility.

The deadliest civilian plane crash involving a Pakistani jet was in 1992, when a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a cloud-covered hillside on its approach to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, killing 167 people.

- AFP, AP

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