A passenger airliner has crashed outside of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, reportedly killing all 152 people aboard, including two Americans. The flight, run by Pakistani airline Airblue, was traveling from Karachi. The plane crashed in the unpopulated Margalla Hills amid harsh weather and is not believed to have harmed any bystanders. At this point it remains unclear what precisely caused the crash and how officials will respond. Here's what we know and possible explanations for what happened.
- Flight Wasn't Diverted Despite Bad Weather The New York Times' Adam Ellick reports, "Hashim Raza Garvaizi, a captain for Pakistan International Airlines, told GEO television that the airport’s runway has instruments that allow planes to land in weather conditions when there is no visibility. Mr. Garvaizi knew the pilot and said he had an impeccable record. He speculated that the plane could have been struck by lightening or that wind currents could have caused it to dip lower than expected. Mr. Garvaizi said another flight was diverted to Lahore about 30 minutes before the Airblue crash." The Wall Street Journal's Zahid Hussain adds, "Many other flights in to Islamabad were cancelled or diverted on Wednesday morning and it isn't clear why the Airblue flight was given the go-ahead to approach the airport."
- Eyewitness: Plane 'Lost Balance' The Washington Post's Shaiq Hussain finds an eyewitness. "A witness, Shahid Ameen, who was in a nearby residential section at the time of crash, said that he saw the plane with a low flight pattern. He said it looked 'as if the plane had lost balance before I saw it coming down.'"
- Technical Problems Uncertain The Wall Street Journal's Zahid Hussain reports, "Aimal Ahmed, an Airblue spokesman, said the plane was eight years old and flight worthy. 'There was no technical fault in the plane when it took off. All the safety requirements were completed,' he said. ... 'We are not sure whether the accident was caused by a mechanical fault or bad weather,' Mr. Malik told the reporters."
- Islamabad Airport's Dangerous Landing Issues Pakistan Express Tribune columnist Meekal Ahmed explains the peculiarities of Islamabad airport.
If you are using runway 12 as it seems (the Murree road side) there is no ILS [instrument landing system]. The ILS is on runway 30 (the opposite side). So the procedure (which I never thought was safe) is you fly the ILS to 30 and then you break off and turn right and fly parallel to the Margalla hills and then turn back in and land on 12. It’s not a circle but more of a race-track pattern.
You may ask why not have the aircraft turn left rather than right towards the Margalla Hills. The reason is that on the left of runway 30 is Dhamial Air Base, GHQ and so on and as far as I remember that is all so-called "Restricted" airspace. You cannot fly over it.
This is CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) not as stated above.Final point, when you are flying parallel to the Margalla Hills, you are required to keep the airport on your left in sight. So I can visualize the captain in the left seat looking left. Maybe the [flight officer] was flying and craning his neck too. They just seem to have drifted into the Margalla Hills — perhaps because of high winds. They lost what is called "Situational Awareness". Basically they did not know where they were.
- Airport Has One of World's 'Worst Weather Conditions' Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports, "The craggy Margalla Hills to the north of the capital and unpredictable wind patterns can make an approach extremely difficult [a Pakistani pilot] said, going so far as to describe Islamabad as 'one of the worst weather conditions in the world. ... Irregular wind systems surround the Margalla Hills often make it difficult for the pilots while in the air.'" [Alternate link here.]
- Why Recovery Will Be So Difficult Reuters' Kamram Haider relates:
More than 90 bodies had been recovered so far, but the bad weather was making recovery efforts difficult.
"We have suspended the air operation because of rain. It will take a long time to clear the area. There's no way to transport bodies from the site except via helicopters and even helicopters cannot land there," said Aamir Ali Ahmed, senior city government official, said.
Rescuers said they had to dig through the rubble with their bare hands, with fire and thick smoke hampering their work. The fire has since been extinguished, but access to the hillside remained limited to pedestrians and helicopters.
"You find very few intact bodies. Basically, we are collecting bodies parts and putting them in bags," police officer Bin Yameen.