RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
DON GONYEA, host:
And I'm Don Gonyea.
In Pakistan, a passenger jet carrying 152 people has crashed in the hills surrounding the capital, Islamabad. The Airblue jet was on final approach for landing when it lost contact with the control tower. Scores of bodies have been pulled from the wreckage. There are no known survivors. Bad weather is said to have contributed to the crash. It is also hampering rescue operations. NPR's Julie McCarthy was at the scene. She joins us now from Islamabad.
Good morning, Julie.
JULIE MCCARTHY: Good morning.
GONYEA: First, is there anything further on what might have caused this crash?
MCCARTHY: Well, these are still early hours, but the black box has been recovered, which would provide clues as to what happened here in what is being called one of the worst air disasters in Pakistan.
What we do know is that this plane, which was an Airbus 321, was on its final approach to the Islamabad airport when it lost contact with the air traffic control. The plane was en route from Karachi for a two-hour flight to Islamabad, where the weather is very bad foggy and rainy.
Islamabad is gripped this time of year with bad weather. There's monsoons that produce torrential rains, then - of course - the low visibility. The interior minister said that air traffic controllers had told the plane to approach the runway from another direction, and that it wasn't known why the pilot had veered off course so far and found himself over the Margalla hills in the process of correcting that approach to the runway.
One eyewitness who was walking the hills said it looked as if the plane had lost balance and then went down.
GONYEA: You mention the hills. Give us a description of the geography, and of what the scene was like at the crash site.
MCCARTHY: Yeah. Well, shortly after the crash, I went to the Margalla hills that surround Islamabad. They're the foothills, basically, of the Himalayas. They were cloaked in fog. But you could see this white smoke rising from the wreckage, and flames lapping around the site.
The wreckage fell on two sides of a steep hill in a deep ditch, and it spread for 400 yards. And what struck me, Don, from where I stood, is that you simply couldn't make out the image of a plane.
That's how dense the tree coverage is there - and later, as it turns out, an indication that the plane itself badly broke apart. Later, television images of the scene showed that all that was left were small, smoldering pieces of the plane. And as you pointed out, the interior minister, Rehman Malik, confirmed that there are no survivors in this crash 146 passengers and six crew members have all died.
So what was a rescue operation appears to rapidly have become a recovery operation.
GONYEA: And what about Airblue Airlines? A lot of people probably haven't heard of it. Where does it fly? What's its safety record?
MCCARTHY: Right. Airblue was founded, basically, in 2004. It's based in Pakistan. It flies to many cities around Pakistan, but it also makes some stops in international destinations - Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Oman, and it goes as far as Manchester in Britain. As far as this particular flight is concerned, the company said the plane had undergone routine mechanical checkups and was sound, and that it was part of the fleet of Airbus A320 and 321, which are the workhorses, in many ways a very popular aircraft around the world.
The Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority said that Airblue, for the first time, has experienced a crash. Its safety record had been clean up until today.
GONYEA: All right. We've been talking with NPR's Julie McCarthy in Islamabad. Thanks, Julie.
MCCARTHY: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.