WEB DESK: Who knew the 48 who boarded PK661 at Chitral airport for Islamabad would never make it to the destination. Everything appeared so usual and routine when they boarded the ATR-42.
Pop star turned evangelist Junaid Jamshed was returning home, having finished his preaching tour.
Youthful Deputy Commissioner Osama Ahmad Warraich was coming to Islamabad along with his wife and baby daughter to see his parents. The three foreigners, one Chinese and two Austrians, were on a return flight having completed their work at the hydropower plant. Others on board included employees of the Aga Khan Foundation, members of the Chitral royal family, and five members of the crew, including experienced and renowned ATR aircraft pilot Saleh Janjua.
The one-hour flight was so pleasing an alternative to a tedious daylong journey by road up and down the hills and the Lowari Pass. They all perished as the plane crashed on the other side of the Margallas just 30 miles short of Islamabad Airport. JJ is gone, leaving behind the legacy of “Dil Dil Pakistan”. Osama will keep reminding us how dedicated to one’s responsibility a government servant can be. Each individual who perishes in a crash leaves behind a story to tell.
However, how heart wrenching it is when it becomes nearly impossible to identify the individuals, once the victims were charred beyond recognition. Nadra could identify only six or seven. The rest of the bodies have been transported to PIMS in Islamabad for DNA identification. But how the villagers near the crash site were desperate to find if they could save some lives; a message that humanity is not dead yet. Announcements were made from mosques and people rushed to the site but the flames from the doomed aircraft would not allow them to carry out rescue work.
The black box found and there is clear record of the conversation the pilot had with the control towers at Chitral and Islamabad airports. As to what caused the crash are confusing, if not misleading, statements from the quarters concerned. The Chitral airport manager says the control tower remained in contact with the plane for about 10 minutes after take-off.
He said “goodbye to the captain when the plane crossed the Lowari Top,” and insisted that the plane had “no technical fault at the time of landing and take-off”. The PIA chairman rules out fault with the plane. But the director general of Civil Aviation Authority is of the opinion that the pilot had radioed the control tower two minutes before the crash that the left engine had stopped working.
Since the two-engine ATR plane can take off and land on one engine, is it then the case that it was flying on one engine and as it went dead the plane crashed? Or, if there was “no issue with the aircraft”, as the PIA chairman insists, and there is no question of human error, given the rich experience of the pilot, is it then a case of sabotage? It was the villagers who informed Islamabad Airport of the crash, saying that before the crash the plane went up and down a number of times.
Technical failure, human error or sabotage, there has to be a thorough investigation by professionals in the field. Being a national airline, one which does not have an encouraging record, the PIA owes it to the nation to get to the bottom of the case. There have been conflicting reports about the safety record of the ATR brand of aircraft. But the real issue is not the brand but maintenance of the aircraft and that turns the focus on the performance of the Civil Aviation Authority.
Historically, if the crashes suffered by local airlines have not been few, their near-misses have been much more. Of course, safety is their major issue. One other issue of serious concern is the compensation to be paid to the families of the victims, an anxiety that comes to mind considering what length the families of the Airblue crash had to go to get compensated. -Business Recorder