ISLAMABAD/Abbottabad - Authorities investigating the PIA plane crash that killed all 48 people onboard had began DNA testing on the bodies yesterday, as the country mourned the victims of its deadliest aircraft crash in four years.

The plane crashed Wednesday evening into a hillside around 80 kilometres from the capital Islamabad, where it was headed after leaving Chitral after the engine reportedly failed.

The bodies were retrieved from the site near Havelian town of Abbottabad district after a search operation that spanned over 16 hours.

Some of the bodies were first shifted to the Ayub Medical Complex (AMC) Abbottabad early in the morning, and later airlifted in army helicopters to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Islamabad, where emergency has been declared.

An army spokesman said many of the bodies airlifted from the site were burnt beyond recognition and will be handed over to families after they are identified.

“Most of the bodies, including that of Junaid Jamshed, are badly charred beyond recognition. There is no other way except through DNA tests to identify the victims,” Dr Junaid Ahmed, an official at the AMC, told reporters.

He said only six bodies could be identified by their finger prints, but another official at the hospital said that not even a single body was intact.

Stunned relatives gathered at PIMS, some weeping quietly, others besieging officials with questions. “What can I tell you?” said Raja Amir, as he waited for his mother’s remains. “I don’t know what we will get of her. There is still another hell to go through.”

Relatives of the victims have been asked to provide their blood samples for identification. A facilitation desk has also been established at the PIMS besides provision of food to the victims’ families by Pakistan Baitul Mal. DNA testing would take a little over a week to complete, according to hospital officials.

Funeral prayers were held for the identified deceased at PIMS which were attended by relatives, airline officials and hospital staff.

“My friend died in the plane crash, it is a great tragedy for me as he was my childhood friend,” said Murad Khan from Chitral as he waited at the PIMS. “His relatives have not arrived yet. As I work in Islamabad I am here to receive his body. I don’t know if I will see his face for the last time or not.”

Raja Aamir, whose mother died in the crash, said: “The sudden death of our mother is a great loss for our family – 40 to 50 members of my family have arrived here in Islamabad we don’t know where we will stay.”

The father of one of the crew who died lashed out at the PIA and the government, saying better management could have prevented the crash. “I have no hope,” Raja Abdul Ghaffar said after the body of his son was brought to the morgue. “I am left with nothing.”

PIA, PAF support

On the directives of PIA chairman, an amount of Rs500,000 each was being given to the next of kin of all the 48 persons to meet funeral expenses.

According to the PIA spokesman, district managers have been directed to personally visit the residences of the deceased and hand over the amount in cash. “This will be followed by a comprehensive compensation package as per law,” the spokesperson said.

On the other hand, on the directives of Chief of the Air Staff Sohail Aman, who expressed deep grief over the loss of precious lives, a C-130 fleet will be made available to airlift the bodies of the tragic plane crash to their native towns.

 

Cause of crash

The officials meanwhile sought to pinpoint the cause of the disaster. Engine trouble was initially believed responsible, but many questions remain, stirring new worries about the safety record of money-losing Pakistani International Airlines.

Senior aviation officials on Thursday pushed back against allegations that a maintenance lapse had caused the accident.

“One engine of the plane failed after its takeoff from Chitral and the pilot informed us about that in his call to the control. The plane, however, was cleared for flight and that’s why it flew. Had it not been cleared, it would not fly,” said Muhammad Irfan Elahi, a top aviation official.

Concern is growing over air safety as media in recent years have reported several near-misses.

The ATR-42 aircraft involved in the crash had undergone regular maintenance, including an “A-check” certification in October, said airline chairman Muhammad Azam Saigol. “I want to make it clear that it was a perfectly sound aircraft,” Saigol said.

Television images earlier appeared to show rescue officials retrieving the aircraft’s “black box” flight recorder from the wreckage, and the airline confirmed the recovery to a news channel.

The aircraft, made by French company ATR in 2007, had racked up 18,739 flight hours since joining PIA’s fleet that year. Its captain, Saleh Janjua, had logged more than 12,000 flight hours over his career, the airline said.

 

 

Osama’s funeral

Chitral, from where the plane took off, is a scenic area and a tourist hotspot. Foreign tourists increasingly travel to Chitral, along with numerous domestic visitors, as Pakistan emerges from years of militant violence.

The dead included a member of Chitral’s traditional royal family, his wife and family, besides a regional administrative official, Osama Ahmad Warraich, killed with his wife and infant daughter.

At a funeral for the Warraich family, Osama’s mother was seen waving at the coffins and weeping: “Let me say goodbye to my kids one more time.”

 

Tributes, prays keep pouring in for Junaid

Much of the public’s comments focused on Junaid Jamshed, the vocalist of Vital Signs, who abandoned his music career in 2001 to become a travelling evangelist with Tableeghi Jamaat.

Many comments on social network Twitter pointed up the contrast between his two roles, first as a pop sensation singing about love and heartbreak, and then as a stern, bearded preacher.

“Junaid Jamshed’s journey was so quintessentially Pakistani. Conflicted, passionate, devoted, ubersmart, and so, so talented. Tragic loss,” Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based development professional and analyst, said in a tweet.

Others simply shared his band’s many hits, such as ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’, which has become an unofficial anthem, played at public gatherings since its release in 1987.

 

 

Authorities struggle to identify crash victims

The officials meanwhile sought to pinpoint the cause of the disaster. Engine trouble was initially believed responsible, but many questions remain, stirring new worries about the safety record of money-losing Pakistani International Airlines.

Senior aviation officials on Thursday pushed back against allegations that a maintenance lapse had caused the accident.

“One engine of the plane failed after its takeoff from Chitral and the pilot informed us about that in his call to the control. The plane, however, was cleared for flight and that’s why it flew. Had it not been cleared, it would not fly,” said Muhammad Irfan Elahi, a top aviation official. Concern is growing over air safety as media in recent years have reported several near-misses.

The ATR-42 aircraft involved in the crash had undergone regular maintenance, including an “A-check” certification in October, said airline chairman Muhammad Azam Saigol. “I want to make it clear that it was a perfectly sound aircraft,” Saigol said. Television images earlier appeared to show rescue officials retrieving the aircraft’s “black box” flight recorder from the wreckage, and the airline confirmed the recovery to a news channel. The aircraft, made by French company ATR in 2007, had racked up 18,739 flight hours since joining PIA’s fleet that year. Its captain, Saleh Janjua, had logged more than 12,000 flight hours over his career, the airline said.

Osama’s funeral

Chitral, from where the plane took off, is a scenic area and a tourist hotspot. Foreign tourists increasingly travel to Chitral, along with numerous domestic visitors, as Pakistan emerges from years of militant violence.

The dead included a member of Chitral’s traditional royal family, his wife and family, besides a regional administrative official, Osama Ahmad Warraich, killed with his wife and infant daughter.

At a funeral for the Warraich family, Osama’s mother was seen waving at the coffins and weeping: “Let me say goodbye to my kids one more time.”

Tributes, prays keep pouring in for Junaid

Much of the public’s comments focused on Junaid Jamshed, the vocalist of Vital Signs, who abandoned his music career in 2001 to become a travelling evangelist with Tableeghi Jamaat. Many comments on social network Twitter pointed up the contrast between his two roles, first as a pop sensation singing about love and heartbreak, and then as a stern, bearded preacher.

“Junaid Jamshed’s journey was so quintessentially Pakistani. Conflicted, passionate, devoted, ubersmart, and so, so talented. Tragic loss,” Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based development professional and analyst, said in a tweet. Others simply shared his band’s many hits, such as ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’, which has become an unofficial anthem, played at public gatherings since its release in 1987.