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Archive for July 28th, 2010

A Tragic Morning

AP: Mourners outside the Hospital

I woke up to really sad news this morning.

On Wednesday, an Airblue plane flying from Karachi crashed in Islamabad’s Margalla Hills. According to the NY Times, “Rescue helicopters fought against thick smoke and flames as they tried to find survivors amid the wreckage — about a two-hour drive into the hills above Islamabad — but hours after the crash, Pakistani officials said that none of the 146 passengers or 6 crew members had survived.”

Among the 152 people killed, news agencies report that six were members of Youth Parliament Pakistan and the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said two Americans had been on the flight. For the full passenger list, see here. Dawn in its coverage also included the number for the Crisis Management Cell, for more information regarding passengers who were on board the plane: 051-9211223-4.

So what caused the plane crash? Raheel Ahmed, a spokesman for Airblue told reporters, “Apparently the cause of the crash is bad weather, but we leave that to the investigators.” Al Jazeera correspondent Kamaal Hyder further reported, “Visibility was very poor… Questions are now pointing at why the airplane would try and land considering weather conditions were so bad. What will be critical is finding the black box which will give the final moments of the cockpit conversation that will give better clues into what happened.”

What exactly is a “black box,” you ask? According to HowStuffWorks, investigators generally turn to the airplane’s flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) for answers on how the plane crashed. Costing between $10,000 and $15,000 (not sure if Pakistani airlines get similar models), these black boxes reveal details of the events immediately preceding the accident. According to Dawn, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) told reporters that this black box has been recovered, so details surrounding the crash will presumably be released soon, (though GEO reports that Pakistan actually lacks the “facility” to decipher these gadgets).

According to the Wall Street Journal, Airblue was established in 2004 by Pakistan businessman and politician Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was a former chairman of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in the 1990s. The airline “has quickly grown in to the nation’s number two carrier,” with 1.4 million passengers in its 2006-2007 fiscal year compared to PIA’s five million.  The WSJ included an interesting angle in its coverage, noting that Pakistan’s airline industry “has expanded rapidly in recent years to cater to a growing middle class.” The expansion resulted in safety concerns which led to the European Union partially banning PIA from flying in EU airspace in 2007. This was soon after a PIA Fokker F-27 aircraft crashed in June 2006 after taking off from the city of Multan, killing all 45 people on board. According to the news agency, “That was the last major air crash in Pakistan.”

The tragedy of today of course is expressed in the images and videos of the victims’ families and friends, who swarmed the hospital and ticket counters at Islamabad’s airport this morning desperately seeking information about their loved ones. The office of PM Yousaf Raza Gilani said in a statement that the federal cabinet has declared today a “national day of mourning” for the victims of Airblue flight ED202. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives today.

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