ISLAMABAD – Pakistan on Thursday mourned the 47 victims of its deadliest plane crash in four years, among them a rock star turned Muslim evangelist, two infants and three foreigners, as officials sought to pinpoint the cause.
Engine trouble was initially believed responsible, but many questions remain, stirring new worries about the safety record of money-losing state carrier Pakistani International Airlines.
The ATR-42 aircraft involved in the crash had undergone regular maintenance, including an “A-check” certification in October, airline chairman Muhammad Azam Saigol said.
“I want to make it clear that it was a perfectly sound aircraft,” Saigol said, ruling out technical or human error.
The aircraft appeared to have suffered a failure in one of its two turboprop engines just before the crash, he said, but this would have to be confirmed by an investigation.
“I think there was no technical error or human error,” he told a news conference late Wednesday. “Obviously there will be a proper investigation.”
Outpourings of grief erupted online soon after flight PK661 smashed into the side of a mountain near the town of Havelian, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, late on Wednesday afternoon, after taking off from the mountain resort of Chitral.
It crashed just 50 km (31 miles) short of its destination, the international airport in Islamabad, the capital.
Much of the anguish focused on Junaid Jamshed, the vocalist of Vital Signs, one of Pakistan’s first and most successful rock and pop bands of the 1990s, who abandoned his musical career in 2001 to become a traveling evangelist with the conservative Tableeghi Jamaat group.
Many of the reactions on social network Twitter spoke to this apparent dichotomy between his two lives, first as a heartthrob pop sensation singing about love and heartbreak, and later as a stern, bearded preacher admonishing young people for straying from Islam.
“Junaid Jamshed’s journey was so quintessentially Pakistani. Conflicted, passionate, devoted, ubersmart, and so, so talented. Tragic loss,” Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based development professional and analyst, said in a tweet.
Others simply shared his band’s many chart-topping hits, such as ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’, which has become an unofficial anthem, played at public gatherings since its release in 1987.
Some urged Pakistanis to remember the 46 others who perished, including two infants, three foreigners and five crew listed on the passenger manifest.
“Junaid Jamshed’s death has saddened many. But don’t let this overshadow the tragedies of other families who lost their dear ones,” tweeted Islamabad-based journalist Umar Cheema.
The foreigners included two Austrians and a Chinese man, the airline said. Foreign tourists have been flocking to Chitral, already crowded with thousands of domestic visitors, each year as Pakistan emerges from years of violence caused by a Taliban insurgency.
The dead included a member of Chitral’s traditional royal family and his wife and family, as well as a regional administrative official, Osama Ahmad Warraich, who was killed with his wife and infant daughter, the Dawn newspaper said.
The aircraft, made by French company ATR in 2007, had racked up 18,739 flight hours since joining PIA’s fleet that year.
Its captain, Saleh Janjua, had logged more than 12,000 flight hours over his career, the airline said.
Concerns are growing over air safety as media in recent years have reported near-misses following overshot runways, engines catching fire and landing gear deployment failures.
In the worst such disaster, in 2010, all 152 people on board were killed when a plane operated by Air Blue crashed in heavy rain near Islamabad.
Two years later, all 127 aboard were killed when a plane operated by Bhoja Air crashed near Islamabad.
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