RAWALPINDI: Eighteen people were killed when a small military plane crashed into a residential area in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi early yesterday, officials told AFP. The plane crashed into a poor village near an upscale neighborhood in the garrison city that is home to the army’s headquarters, creating a fireball that lit up the night sky and terrified residents. “We have taken 18 dead bodies to hospital… that included 13 civilians and five crew members,” said local rescue spokesman Farooq Butt, adding that a further 12 people had been injured in the accident near the capital Islamabad. “All the bodies are badly burned, so DNA tests are required for identification,” he added.
One resident told AFP that the crash happened around 2 am. “I woke to the sound of a huge explosion. I stepped out of my house and saw huge flames and we rushed to the site,” said Mohammad Sadiq. “People were screaming. We tried to help them but the flames were too high and the fire too intense,” he said, adding he believed seven members of one family were among the dead. Another resident Ghulam Khan said he heard the plane as it buzzed over his house, adding the aircraft appeared to be on fire before it crashed. “The sound was so scary,” he added.
The military’s information wing said the plane was on a routine training mission when the accident occurred, adding that rescue officials had extinguished the fire caused by the crash and moved the injured to a local hospital. An AFP reporter at the scene said smoke was still rising from the wreckage and destroyed homes, while pieces of the plane were visible on a nearby roof. Hours after the crash rescue workers could be seen combing through the smoldering site, gathering debris and inspecting the scene while ambulances swarmed the area.
Military officials had also cordoned off the crash site while a crowd of residents stood nearby, some of them sobbing. Prime Minister Imran Khan offered his condolences to the affected families and wished a “quick recovery for the injured”, according to a tweet by the Pakistani government.
Pakistan has a chequered aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years. In 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while travelling from remote northern Pakistan to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people. The deadliest air disaster on Pakistani soil was in 2010, when an Airbus 321 operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi crashed into the hills outside Islamabad while coming in to land, killing all 152 on board. – AFP