December 7, 2016

PAKISTAN: Pop Star Junaid Jamshed Among 48 Killed When A Plane Crashed Into A Hillside North Of Islamabad. No Survivors.

The Guardian, UK
written by Jon Boone in Islamabad
Wednesday December 7, 2016

Junaid Jamshed, a legendary figure in Pakistani pop music, was among the 48 people killed when a plane crashed into a hillside north of Islamabad, the latest episode in the country’s long history of aviation disasters.

The small turboprop ATR 42 operated by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was travelling from the mountainous region of Chitral on Wednesday when it crashed near the town of Havelian.

It was not clear what caused the crash, which happened on a fine day far from the high peaks of the Hindu Kush mountain range where Chitral is located.

However, one civil aviation official said the pilot made a distress call and reported engine failure, and witnesses said the plane plummeted out of the sky.

Photographs and videos taken by locals showed a blasted hillside covered with flames and debris scattered over a wide area.

Officials were quick to declare there was no chance of any survivors. “All of the bodies are burned beyond recognition,” said Taj Muhammad Khan, a government official.

Kurshid Tanoli, a police official in Havelian, said recovery work was hampered by a fire at the crash site and the hilly terrain. “The nearest village to the site is Batolani and is deep in the hills,” he said. “Vehicles and ambulances can only go to Batolani and then it is a 30-minute walk.”

Helicopters and about 500 troops were dispatched to the scene and the army later announced that 40 bodies had been recovered and sent to the nearby town of Abbottabad, where some were due to undergo DNA testing to identify them.

A manifest for flight PK661, obtained by local media, showed that in addition to five crew and a ground engineer there were 42 passengers on board, including Jamshed, a pop star turned evangelical Muslim cleric and fashion designer, who ran a successful chain of boutiques across Pakistan.

Social media tributes flooded in for Jamshed, who rose to fame in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the group Vital Signs, whose songs are still popular today.

Jamshed later abandoned his music career after becoming a follower of the Tableeghi Jamaat, a highly conservative, proselytising Islamic movement. Quaid-e-Azam, manager of the Hindukush Heights hotel in Chitral, said Jamshed had been in the town as part of a 15-day preaching tour.

Shortly before his death Jamshed posted pictures on social media of his trip to Chitral, a picturesque valley popular with tourists, which he described as “heaven on Earth”.

In 2014 Jamshed was accused of blasphemy, an extremely serious allegation in Pakistan, and fled to the UK after issuing an apology.

Also on board, according to the manifest, was Osama Warraich, the senior civilian bureaucrat for Chitral, who was travelling to Islamabad with his wife and son.

PIA said three foreigners were on board: two Austrians and one Chinese citizen.

Pakistan’s last major air disaster was in 2015 when a military helicopter crashed in a remote northern valley, killing eight people including the Norwegian, Philippine and Indonesian ambassadors and the wives of Malaysian and Indonesian envoys.

The country’s deadliest crash was in 2010, when an Airbus A321 operated by the private airline Airblue flying from Karachi crashed into hills outside Islamabad while preparing to land, killing all 152 people on board.

The deadliest accident involving PIA occurred in 1992 when an Airbus A300 crashed into a cloud-covered hillside after descending too early on approach to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, killing 167 people.

Although PIA has been crash-free for 10 years, a 2014 analysis by US statistician Nate Silver based on data from 1985 to 2014 found the airline had a consistently high number of what he termed “near-misses” – an indicator of risk.

The government has vowed to privatise PIA, the national carrier, which has been losing money.

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