The remains of at least 23 victims of the the PK-661 plane crash near Havelian were transported to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) in Islamabad for DNA testing, the Press Information Department said Thursday as the country mourned one of the worst aviation disasters in its history.
The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight crashed into a hillside after one of its two turboprop engines failed while travelling from the city of Chitral to the capital, and burst into flames killing everyone on board.
The remains of the 48 victims will be handed over to their surviving relatives after identification.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a high-level meeting in Islamabad ordered an independent and transparent inquiry into the air crash, Radio Pakistan reported.
The PIA chairman, CEO, the Aviation Division secretary and the Civil Aviation director general briefed the premier on the accident, informing him that the crew and pilots operating flight PK-661 were experienced professionals with thousands of hours of flying experience under their belts. The PM was told the aircraft had undergone routine and regular maintenance and security checks and had been declared airworthy.
PM Nawaz directed the inquiry by completed under the safety board as soon as possible, and that a senior Pakistan Air Force officer be co-opted as a member of the inquiry committee.
Three helicopters provided by the army helped shift the victims' remains to hospitals in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the PID said.
Muhammad Abbas, a hospital official at Ayub Medical Complex in the northern garrison town of Abbottabad, earlier told AFP. "Not one body was intact."
Rescuers, including hundreds of villagers, had overnight pulled charred and smoking remains from the wreckage of the aircraft, parts of which were found hundreds of metres away from the main site in Abbottabad district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
An AFP reporter at the site near the village of Saddha Batolni said part of the plane remained on fire more than five hours after the crash.
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“The bodies were burnt so badly we could not recognise whether they were women or men,” a villager in his thirties, who declined to give his name, told AFP.
“We put into sacks whatever we could find... and carried them down to the ambulance.”
Six of the victims had already been identified through fingerprints, according to Ali Baz, another official at the Ayub Medical Complex.
Details of the identified passengers were pasted on the wall outside the mortuary.
Meanwhile, PIA spokesman Daniyal Gilani issued a statement saying that "on the directions of Chairman and CEO PIA, an amount of Rs500,000 cash is being given to the next of kin of each of the 47 persons who lost their lives in the tragic ATR crash, to meet with funeral expenses”.
"District managers have been directed to personally visit the residences of the deceased and hand over the amount in cash," he said.
"This will be followed by a comprehensive compensation package as per law," the statement said.
The aircraft issued a Mayday call at 4:14 pm (1114 GMT) Wednesday before losing radar contact and crashing.
PIA chairman Azam Saigol said the nine-year-old plane was deemed to be “technically sound” when it last underwent a detailed inspection in October.
“Our focus now is to retrieve all the dead bodies,” he added, vowing a full investigation into Flight PK-661.
Plane 'was about to hit village'
A senior rescue official on the site who requested anonymity added: “The villagers told us that the plane was shaky before it crashed. It was about to hit the village but it seems that the pilot managed to drag the plane towards the hills.”
Three foreigners were among the dead, officials said, with Austria's foreign ministry later confirming two of its nationals were killed and Chinese state media saying one of its nationals was also among the victims.
Among those also on board was former pop star turned evangelist Junaid Jamshed, according to the Chitral airport manager and a local police official.
Tributes poured in on social media for the former lead singer of the country's first major pop band, whose popular “Dil Dil Pakistan” became an unofficial national anthem.
Wednesday's crash was the fourth deadliest on Pakistani soil.
The country's deadliest air disaster was in 2010, when an Airbus 321 crashed into the hills outside Islamabad while about to land, killing all 152 on board. An official report blamed the accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere.