The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Boeing PK-756, with 196 passengers on board, was returning from Riyadh when it was fired upon at Peshawar's Bacha Khan airport.—Photo by Zahir Shah Sherazi
PESHAWAR: Flight operations at Peshawar's Bacha Khan airport resumed on Wednesday after being temporarily suspended following last night's terrorist attack on a landing plane, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said.
CAA authorities added that the routes leading to the airport were cleared for traffic.
Last night unidentified gunmen attacked the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Boeing PK-756 as it came in to land at Peshawar's Bacha Khan airport, killing a woman and injuring two flight stewards on board.
The PIA Boeing PK-756 had 196 passengers on board, arriving from Riyadh when it was fired upon.
Airline officials said the gunmen had aimed specifically at the highly flammable fuel tank as they sought to blow up the aircraft, as well as the cockpit, to kill the pilot.
“It would have been a disaster had they hit the fuel tank or cockpit,” said a senior Pakistan International Airlines official, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to discuss the matter with the press.
The captain of the plane described his frantic efforts to land the aircraft safely as bullets whizzed by.
“I saw several bullets flashing towards the cockpit and fuel tank and tried to avoid them,” the senior PIA official quoted the captain as telling ground staff after landing the airplane.
“The cockpit and fuel tank were safe but eight bullets hit the right side of the plane, near the service door. The second engine, which was close to the fuel tank, was also hit.
The firing injured three people including two flight stewards and a woman, who later succumbed to her wounds.
The plane was hit by six bullets, police said, killing the woman and narrowly missing the captain. At least one bullet struck the plane's engine, they added.
The woman's daughter was sitting next to her when she was shot in the head, PIA official Mohammad Kifayatullah Khan told Reuters.
“When I went inside the plane, I saw the woman lying on the seat and her nine-year-old daughter was crying, 'My mother is dead, my mother is dead',” said Khan.
“All the passengers were panicked. Some of them wanted to get out as soon as possible because they were afraid of fire inside the plane.”
Passengers speak to DawnNews
The army and police personnel conducted a search operation and arrested over 100 suspects.
Security was beefed up on all the routes to airport, additional personnel of security forces were also been posted.
Injured flight stewards, identified as Majid and Ijaz Chaudhry have been shifted to Combined Military Hospital (CMH).
Police officials and PIA spokesman Mashood Tajwar have confirmed the incident and the casualties.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Shah Farman told DawnNews that it was difficult to ascertain as to which direction the aircraft was fired upon.
He claimed that firing incidents like this are "a usual occurrence in the area".
No group claimed responsibility for the incident.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Operations Najeebur Rehman said that 12 bullets were fired at the aircraft and they have launched a search operation in Pishtakara and the surroundings area. Security forces are also assisting the police in combing the area.
The attack follows a major Taliban assault on Karachi airport earlier this month that killed at least 32 people including all 10 attackers.
Security was put on high alert around the area amid the Pakistani military's ongoing operation Zarb-i-Azb against militants in North Waziristan Agency, one of the country's seven semi-autonomous tribal agencies next to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of which Peshawar is the capital.
Investigation launched into the attack
Initial investigation carried out by law enforcement agencies in relation to the Peshawar airport attack revealed that the PIA Boeing was attacked by a militant group based in Darra Adamkhel.
Official sources said last night’s search and investigation had led to the conclusion that the attack on the plane came from the semi-autonomous tribal area of Darra Adamkhel though no group has been named so far neither has any responsibility been claimed for the attack.
Law enforcement personnel also arrested about a hundred suspects from the outskirts of the city and investigation against them was underway.
The report also said that firing was carried out with Short Machine Guns (SMGs).
An FIR has not been registered over the attack but flight operations have resumed and the CAA confirmed that the airport was opened.
Masash Bahadar, a passenger in the PIA flight, said he heard three shots when the aircraft was landing. Suddenly, someone told him that the aeroplane had been attacked.
Sultan Khan, another eyewitness on the flight, said that he was in the front while a lady and a steward at the back were hit and injured.
He said that the passengers heard three shots when they were landing while panic gripped the plane.
The intelligence report said that a woman identified as Maknoon died while two crew members Ijaz and Majid sustained injuries and were subsequently shifted to the Combined Military Hospital.
Peshawar has frequently come under rocket attacks as miscreants used to fire MBR rockets in the past, some of which even landed on the runway and hit surrounding residential areas.
Rockets were mostly fired from the nearby restive tribal area of Bara or the villages bordering Khyber Agency.
A major attack on the Peshawar airport was launched by Uzbek militants on Dec 15, 2012 during which nine people were killed whereas five militants were also gunned down, who were later identified as foreigners of Uzbek origin.
The landing approach to the Peshawar Airport is over the restive Khyber Agency whereas the landing strip is located on the main Bara road.
Although the airport is heavily guarded from its entrance, the runway and the backyard runs along a five-kilometre road which passes through the Nawe Kalley village to University Town and is not considered secure.