South Asia

Crash site of smoke, rain and bodies

Pakistani rescue workers search for survivors at The Margalla Hills on the outskirts of Islamabad Image copyright AFP
Image caption The plane from Karachi came down in hills just north of the Pakistani capital

It was raining incessantly when our vehicle came to a halt at a treacherous bend on the Margalla Hills road.

On the right, the road snaked up a steep climb towards Islamabad's famous picnic spot called Daman-e-Koh.

But we were headed off the road, down a ravine, before climbing the rain-soaked, heavily forested ridge on which the Airblue plane crashed.

It took more than an hour of climbing to reach the spot where some parts of the debris had fallen.

The air was heavy with a deadly smell of petrol, smoke and charred flesh.

Twisted metal

Apparently, a wing of the plane broke after crashing into a rock a couple of hundred feet up the hill, and fell to the spot where we were standing.

Some tail-end parts of the aeroplane also fell there. There was also the twisted metal of a massive engine.

All of it was on fire. The bulk of the plane apparently flew through a narrow mountain corridor and fell on the far side of the valley.

It was not possible for us to go over the crest of the mountain to the other side.

Image copyright AP
Image caption All 152 passengers were killed in the crash

There was fire and thick smoke all over the place; there were also some body parts of passengers strewn around.

There were fewer rescue workers there than one would have expected.

A majority of them were members of the anti-terrorism police.

Most of them just stood around, gazing at the burning debris, and looking as though there was not much that they could do.

After a while, an officer of the Islamabad police, Bin Yameen, shouted "let's get to work boys" and started walking towards the burning debris. Nobody moved.

Mr Yameen turned around and said: "if you don't move quickly, I will baton-charge you."

Just when the rescuers were shuffling to get to work, a policeman in plain clothes announced that an army helicopter was coming in to pour water on the fire, and that everyone should get out of the way.

The work stopped.

No co-ordination

The helicopter came, circled on the spot a couple of times, and went away. No water.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rescue workers pulled out body parts from the wreckage

Work had to be stopped a second time for the same reason. The helicopter came and dropped some shrouds for dead bodies. No water again.

It was distinctly obvious that there was no co-ordination between the workers of different departments such as the police, the rescue department, the Capital Development Authority and the military.

Rescuers operated in a chaotic manner, scouring through the debris that was not on fire.

They pulled out many chunks of mangled human flesh.

During the two hours that I stayed at the scene, I saw rescuers collect three separate loads of body parts which they tied up in shrouds. There was no telling how many people they belonged to.

I saw only one dead body that was fully intact and identifiable. It was brought down by some rescue workers from the other side of the ridge.

Some rescuers had brought stretchers with them from below, but there was no way they could carry back dead bodies due to the steep face of the ridge.

The only way to get them down was to airlift them.

This part of the operation took nearly five hours to begin.

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