All 127 people on board a Bhoja Air Boeing 737 have been killed after the plane crashed several kilometers short of Islamabad airport. Pakistan's Interior Ministry confirms there are no survivors.
"There is no chance of any survivors. It will be only a miracle. The plane is totally destroyed," police officer Fazle Akbar said.
Fears were high the death toll might rise as the plane crashed in a residential area. But Islamabad police Chief Bani Yameen says that nobody on the ground appears to have been killed. The plane only hit some electricity poles, blanketing the area in darkness, reports Reuters.
Once the fire was extinguished, emergency workers searched among smoldering wreckage and body parts for any sign of life at the crash site, just a few kilometers from Benazir Bhutto International Airport.
At least 110 bodies have been recovered from the scene. The wreckage, including smashed seats, clothes and jewelry belonging to passengers, was spread out over a one-kilometer wide area.
"I saw nothing but body parts and twisted metal on the ground when I reached the scene,'' said local resident Mustafa, who only gave one name to the Associated Press. "We collected up small pieces of human flesh and bundled them in cloth sheets like we collect grain.''
Bhoja Airlines flight BHO-213 was flying from Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and a major seaport, to Islamabad when it crashed in bad weather, the country's Civilian Aviation Authority confirmed.
Four children are believed to be among the victims. Local media say a newlywed couple was on board with plans to spend their honeymoon in the capital.
"My brother's wife was on board this flight," says Naveed Khan, one of the bereaved family members gathered at Karachi's airport. "We pray for their departed souls, what else can we do now?"
Bhoja Air said the airplane crashed during its approach in Islamabad due to bad weather. A violent thunderstorm was lashing the capital at the time of the crash, which occurred about 6:40 pm local time.
"It was really bad weather for a flight,'' said navy captain Arshad Mahmood, who lives near the crash site." The pilot was forced to move down to avoid clouds that were generating the lightening and thunder."
But an initial investigation report compiled with information received from air traffic control tower suggests the fuel tank burst in mid-air, leading to to the crash. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials said the jet was flying at a height of 200 feet (60m) three minutes before it crashed, while it should have been at 1,500 to 1,700 feet (around 500m) above the ground.
It was flying too low and at a very high speed of 300 miles an hour (483 kph), which could have caused the explosion some 50 feet (15m) lower.
The preliminary report claimed that pilot of the ill-fated aircraft informed the control tower three minutes before the crash that a fuel tank had caught fire and he had lost control over the plane. He also asked for help to attempt an emergency landing, after which contact was lost.
From the very beginning witnesses were saying that the plane was already ablaze as it descended.
The Boeing-737 is one of the most popular passenger jets in the world and is used by more than 540 operators. The 737-200 model belongs to the original series. It was first introduced in the late 1960s and is intended for short- and mid-range flights. It has a cruising speed of over 870 km per hour and can carry up to 136 people, depending on the configuration.
Pakistan barred the head of Bhoja Air from leaving the country and ordered him into protective custody on Saturday as it began an investigation into the disaster. Such a ban is often put on someone suspected or implicated in a criminal case.
Speaking at the scene of the crash, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that the airline "seems to be at fault as it had acquired a very old aircraft."
"If the airline management doesn't have enough money it doesn't mean you go and buy a 30-year-old or more aircraft as if it were a rickshaw and start an airline," he added.
The aircraft had reportedly been in use for over 25 years and purchased from the Shaheen Airlines after the latter scrapped it due to its compromised flight-worthiness.
Bhoja Air is a privately-owned domestic operator with its headquarters in Karachi. In 2000 the company had to suspend business due to financial problems. In 2011 it was re-launched and carried out its first flight in March 2012. Its fleet is reported to comprise four Boeing 737-200 and one Boeing 737-400. Friday was the airline's first evening flight from Karachi, a Bhoja Air official said.
Inter-city travel in Pakistan is most efficient by air, but plane crashes are relatively rare. The latest major accident happened in 2010.
An Airbus 321 passenger jet crashed into hills overlooking Islamabad while coming in to land after a flight from Karachi, killing 152 people on board.