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Plane with 152 on board crashes in Pakistan; no survivors

By Reza Sayah and Nasir Habib, CNN
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Plane crashes near Islamabad
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Pakistan now says a "black box" hasn't been found
  • The pilot had years of experience
  • Two of the people on board the flight were Americans
  • There were no survivors, officials said

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- No one survived the crash of a Pakistani passenger plane that went down in the outskirts of the capital Islamabad Wednesday morning with 152 people on board, officials said.

Rescuers worked in heavy rains to recover bodies from the wreckage, as officials launched an investigation to determine why the accident occurred. Pakistani Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said 115 bodies have been taken to area hospitals.

Initially, Kaira and Interior Minister Rehman Malik reported survivors in the crash. Kaira said there were eight survivors, and Malik said there were six.

But Kaira said the initial information received from the scene was incorrect, and both men later said no one survived the crash.

Hours ago, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's ambassador to the United Kingdom, said crews combing through the debris had recovered a so-called "black box" -- which is actually orange -- that is either the craft's flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder. Information from the recorder will help authorities determine the cause of the tragedy.

But Kaira later told reporters that the "black box" has not been recovered.

The Airblue plane was headed to Islamabad from the sea port city of Karachi when it crashed in a hillside while trying to land, said Pervez George, a spokesman for the country's civil aviation authority.

The Airbus A321 was carrying 146 passengers and six crew members, George and Airblue said. The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan said two of the people aboard were American citizens.

Video: Why did the Pakistani plane crash?
Video: Passenger skips flight that crashed
Video: A look at Pakistan's Airblue
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Raheel Ahmed, an Airblue representative, told CNN that among the passengers, 110 were male, 29 were female, five children and two infants. Ahmed said the pilot was Capt. Pervez Iqbal Chauhdary, one of the airline's top pilots with 35 years and more than 25,000 hours of flying experience.

Malik, appearing on Pakistani TV, said the plane was at 2,600 feet as it approached Islamabad but went back up to 3,000 feet before eventually crashing.

"It came from the city toward the Margalla Hills. It was raining heavily," said area resident Ahsan Mukhtar, who saw the plane go down. "It shattered into pieces as soon as it crashed. A burst of flames came off, but the rain put out the fire."

The Margalla Hills are a series of small hills north of the capital.

Officials do not know if weather played a factor in the crash. Pakistan is in the midst of the annual monsoon season when rain sweeps across the subcontinent from June until September.

Airblue, a private airline company, offers flights within Pakistan, as well as to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and the United Kingdom. It makes a fuel stop in Turkey when it is flying from Manchester, England.

"The aircraft was absolutely airworthy. There was nothing technically wrong," said Taheel Ahmed, a spokesman for the airline.

Airbus issued a statement saying the Airbus A321 was delivered from the production line in 2000, leased to Airblue in 2006, and had accumulated about 34,000 flight hours in some 13,500 flights.

"In line with international convention, Airbus will provide full technical assistance to the authorities of Pakistan, who will be responsible for the investigation into the accident," the company said.

Irshad Kassim, the director of a local bank, flies to Islamabad every week on Airblue and was supposed to have been on the flight -- but changed his mind at the last minute Wednesday morning.

"I know Islamabad has a lot of mountains near the landing area, and there is a lot of lightning in the area," Kassim told CNN. "There was a prediction of heavy rain this morning.

"I was on the flight, booked and confirmed -- and I was going to take the flight. I decided at 6 o' clock to not take the flight because of the weather."

He said he received a call shortly after the plane went down from airline representatives asking if he knew whether a Mr. Kassim was on the flight.

"I told them 'I am so sorry, I did not cancel.' I said, 'Due to the rain, I decided not take this flight,'" Kassim said. "Then I asked 'Why are you asking? Is everything OK?'"

It was then that he found out that the plane had gone down.

"I am still numb. I am very numb. I just feel that it's fate, I guess," he said.

"After I looked at the television, I looked at the picture of my three daughters. That's a natural reaction for a father."

CNN's Aliza Kassim contributed to this report

 
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