CAIRO: A Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 720-B, carrying important guests on a luxury flight, crashed in the desert 10 miles from here early this morning [May 20], killing 122 of its 128 passengers and crew. The six surviving passengers, who were rescued by a UAR Air Force helicopter, have been hospitalised at suburban Heliopolis. Two of them underwent operations this afternoon. It was the biggest air disaster this year. Among those on board were 21 journalists, including Mr A.K. Qureshi, Administrator of the Associated Press of Pakistan, and Maj-Gen Hayauddin, Chairman of the National Press Trust. Four air hostesses, specially chosen to serve the distinguished guests, were among those killed.

The plane was on the inaugural flight of a new route from Karachi to London via Cairo when it crashed about 10 miles from Cairo airport at 02-50 local time. Shortly before it crashed Captain A.A. Khan had reported that he was having trouble with the wing flaps of the airliner. Then an eye-witness reported seeing “a ball of fire” in the sky as the plane plunged to the ground. It crashed in flames and careened across the sands before splitting into hundreds of fragments. Rescue workers — Egyptian Policemen, soldiers and airline workers — marvelled how the six survivors managed to be thrown clear. Cairo airport authorities said the plane had flown over the airport before crashing in the Egyptian western desert. Egyptian officials said that the Boeing was in contact with the control tower at Cairo airport at the time of the crash. The officials said that the airline Captain reported a defect as he made his landing approach. The control tower immediately sent crash crews to stand by on the airport runway. Seconds later the crash occurred. A Bedouin Arab, who was in the desert near the crash, said he heard a plane flying very low, then a violent explosion. He said, “The desert suddenly became a mass of flames. We were unable to see exactly what had happened. Gradually the fire died down and quiet returned.”

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2015

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