Eye witnesses said the 27-year-old plane spiraled in the air as it plummeted to the ground on the outskirts of Multan, about three kilometers (two miles) from the city’s airport, two or three minutes after take-off from the eastern city of Lahore. “There was a huge explosion after the plane hit the ground,” said Mohammed Nadeem who lives near the crash site. A nearby power line also caught fire. There were no survivors … and a female flight attendant who was pulled alive from the plane’s wreckage died later in hospital.
Although, at this point, the crash is being blamed on technical sources, there is an ominous history to planes flying out of Multan and blowing up in the sky–that is how Gen. Zia-ul-Haq had been killed in 1988. Some are, therefore, raising eyebrows on the fact that, according to Gulf Daily News, “the passengers included two high court judges, a university vice chancellor and two military brigadiers.”
However, the more likely cause is that these are really old–and often rickety–planes. The Associated Press is already reporting the brewing controversy:
Khalid Hamza, the president of the Pakistan Airline Pilots Association, claimed the Fokkers in the PIA fleet — mostly used on less busy domestic routes — were aging and should be grounded. “I think these planes should have been grounded four, five years ago but perhaps the airline was waiting for such an accident,” [APP] quoted the airline’s deputy managing director Farooq Shah as saying that all of the planes — including the one that crashed — were airworthy, and that none of the remaining six had been grounded.
Chaudhry Bashir, a PIA spokesman, said the crashed plane was inducted into the airline’s fleet in 1979. It had flown for 79,000 hours and was due to be grounded on completing 90,000 hours, he said. “No PIA plane can come on the runway before it has had a full maintenance,” he said.
The crash could put PIA’s safety record under close scrutiny. The airline has reported a number of emergency landings in recent years and in December 2004, several passengers on a domestic flight were injured when one of its jets suddenly dipped, fearing a mid-air collision with another plane. In August 1989, another PIA Fokker, with 54 people on board, went down in Pakistan’s Himalayan north on a domestic flight. The plane’s wreckage was never found.
All pictures from BBC.