RAWALPINDI: The pilot of the ill-fated ATR-42 made his first call to the air traffic control soon after Pakistan International Airlines flight PK-661 took off from Chitral on Wednesday with 42 passengers and five crew members on board.

He said that the plane’s left engine was not functioning and moments later followed with a panicked: “Mayday! Mayday”. Then the plane crashed into the mountains of Batolni village of Havelian — 32 nautical miles from Benazir Bhutto International Airport — and vanished from the radar screen. An official at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport said the plane had taken off at 3.55pm and was scheduled to land in Islamabad at 4:40pm. Minutes before the plane crashed at 4.15pm, the pilot made the emergency call requesting permission for an emergency landing. The plane vanished from the radar screen soon after and the communication system stopped.

Explaining the emergency code, a Civil Aviation Authority official said pilots used the code word Mayday to indicate an emergency. The call is not disturbed and the control tower staff focuses on the problem the pilot is facing, he said. Emergency was declared at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport soon after receiving the phone call.

Arrangements were made for an emergency landing and the fire brigade was asked to reach the site, he said.

The call about the plane crash was made by a resident of Batolni village who had witnessed the tragedy, the official said. He called the Benazir Bhutto International Airport at around 4:35pm and was asked to contact the airport manager as he was the relevant person, he said.

Aviation Division Secretary Irfan Elahi told Dawn that an investigation team, led by Air Commodore Munir Ahmed, has been formed to find out why the ATR-42 had crashed. “At the moment, there is no other reason for the plane crash other than the failure of the left engine,” he said, adding that the investigators will also search for the plane’s flight data recorders.

He said soon after the plane had crashed, emergency services, including a health services team and Rescue-1122 officials, were sent to the crash site.

According to the CAA, the PIA ATR-42 was carrying five crew members, two air guards, and two infants when it plunged into the mountains of Havailian en route from Chitral to Islamabad.

The CAA and the PIA have established help desks at the airport to facilitate the relatives of passengers who were visiting the facilitation desks.

According to the CAA, 31 men, nine women and two infants were on board along with five crew members, including two airhostesses.

The plane was carrying two Austrians, Harald Kessler and Hervig Eichelbenger, and a Chinese national Han Quiang.The Chinese embassy refused to share details of the Chinese passenger who had died in the plane crash, despite several attempts to get information.

A press statement from the Inter-Services Public Relaions (ISPR) said, Pakistan Army’s rescue teams had reached at the site. “As many as 40 dead bodies have been recovered and shifted to Abbotabad Ayub Medical and Teaching Hospital. However, the operation to recover the bodies of victims from plane debris is ongoing,” the statement issued to media said.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2016

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