ISLAMABAD: At least 17 people lost their lives when a military aircraft crashed into a populated area in the suburbs of Rawalpindi in the early hours of Tuesday morning, officials said.
According to an ISPR announcement, five army officials and 12 civilians were martyred in the tragedy.
Another 12 civilians were injured in the crash as the aircraft slammed into houses below where most of the people were sleeping at the time.
However, according to emergency services Rescue 1122, 18 people lost their lives in the crash and nine civilians were injured.
The incident happened at around 2am in Mora Kalu, an impoverished village in Rawalpindi adjacent to the upscale Bahria Town housing society. The Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprop aircraft belonging to Army Aviation was on a routine training flight, according to the ISPR.
Some of the residents said that they could see the aircraft on fire while it hovered over their village before crashing. “It was flying unusually low over our area, and erratically,” said Shahzad, a mechanic who lives near the crash site.
Ghulam Khan, a resident of the village, narrated the aftermath of the crash to Dawn: “I was lying on my bed when from my window I saw a huge ball of fire plunging fast towards the ground.”
Five military officials among victims
“We had no idea what had fallen on the rooftops of our houses and frantically rushed out of our houses to see. I saw the remains of a plane emitting smoke which had crashed on my uncle’s house. I looked around further and saw several houses destroyed by the wreckage of the aircraft.”
Another resident told Dawn he was at home when the incident occurred. “On hearing the crash, the villagers, most of whom were asleep, woke up and began rushing out of their houses.” He said he immediately telephoned emergency services Rescue 1122 and then the electricity department asking them to switch off the power supply in order to avoid further destruction.
Sajid, another resident of the area, said he along with others pulled out bodies buried underneath the rubble of two houses and a makeshift hut. “We attempted to extinguish the fire, but later firefighters from Rescue 1122 arrived and took over,” he added.
A spokesman for emergency services Rescue 1122 said the bodies had been shifted to the Combined Military Hospital as they were burnt beyond recognition and required DNA tests for identification.
Deputy Commissioner Ali Randhawa, during his visit to the hospitals to enquire about the injured, said that DNA tests would be carried out on the charred bodies. He also said that the government would announce compensation for the victims soon.
Among the dead were a one-year-old boy Faizan, four-year-old girl named Zohaib, three-year-old Uzma Bibi, three-year-old Raheela and a four-year-old boy Abdul Rauf, said hospital officials.
Moving scenes were witnessed at the site as rescue workers removed the charred bodies and transferred the wounded to the hospital. Among the 12 civilians who perished in the crash, seven belonged to one family.
The area was immediately cordoned off by law enforcement agencies to facilitate rescue work and collect accident-related evidence. Army helicopters were seen flying over the area shortly after the crash.
The ISPR listed the martyrs as “Lt Col Saqib (Pilot), Lt Col Waseem (Pilot), Naib Subedar Afzal, Havaldar Ibne Ameen and Havaldar Rehmat”.
The injured treated at the Holy Family Hospital and later shifted to the Combined Military Hospital were identified as Naveed Ahmed, 17, Ms Fatima Nazir, 42, having two per cent burns, Ms Surayya, 25, 26 per cent burns, Mohammad Wasim, 12, with two per cent burns, Mohammad Nazir, 70, with 15 per cent burns, Ms Iqra, 13, with 100 per cent burns, Nadeem, 26, with 50 per cent burns, and Ms Shamim, 30, with 75 per cent burns.
The crash is said to have been caused due to a technical malfunction as one of the engines of the aircraft stopped working. “The initial assessment is of a technical fault,” Army Spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor told Dawn.
In a report filed by Rescue 1122 and sent to provincial authorities, a copy of which is available with Dawn, it said, “The possible time of the plane crash took place at 01:59 hours and the emergency call was received by the emergency staff at 02:01 hours. Within six minutes the emergency staff was at the scene which was three kilometres away at Mohra Kahlu near Bahria Town Phase VII.”
In the report the number of dead was given as 18 which included eight women, four men and six children. The total number of injured shifted to different hospitals was given as nine who were shifted to the following three hospitals: Holy Family Hospital, District Headquarters Hospital and Combined Military Hospital.
Prime Minister Imran Khan in a statement expressed his condolences over the loss of life in the air crash. Later the federal cabinet, at the start of its meeting, offered fateha for the departed souls.
Funeral of the crew of the aircraft was offered at Chaklala Garrison. Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa attended the funeral.
On Tuesday night, nine of the dead were laid to rest after funeral prayers, attended by a large number of people, were offered in Mora Kalu village.
Major air accidents
When a senior police official was contacted, he said a report on the incident had been registered in the roznamcha (daily diary), however, he said they will investigate the incident after the registration of FIR, that is if the police is directed to do so.
Rawalpindi has witnessed a number of fatal air crashes. These include August 1970 PIA Fokker crash during take-off; PIA Fokker crash in December 1972, July 2010 Air Blue A-321 crash in the Margalla hills and April 2012 Boeing 737 crash.
One of the recent major air accidents involving Army Aviation has been that of a Mi-17 in August 2015 in which 12 army men were martyred. The helicopter was on a medical evacuation mission to Gilgit when it crashed near Mansehra.
In May 2015, another helicopter had crashed in Naltar while taking diplomats there for inauguration of ski chairlift. The helicopter had then crashed into an empty school leaving all seven on board including ambassadors of Norway and Philippines and wives of two other foreign ambassadors.