ISLAMABADÂ – Anguished relatives sought the remains of loved ones killed in Pakistan’s worst-ever plane crash, some grieving at a hospital collecting bodies Thursday and others joining the recovery effort at the hillside crash site laden by heavy rain and mud.
The Airbus A321 plane operated by Pakistani carrier Airblue crashed into hills overlooking Islamabad during stormy weather Wednesday, killing all 152 people aboard. Aircraft pieces, bodies and belongings were scattered over the heavily forested slopes.
The plane had been ordered to take an alternative approach to the runway, but had veered off course, the Civil Aviation Authority said. Officials said it had lost contact with the control tower before the crash. Investigators were searching for the “black box” flight recorder amid the wreckage to help establish what happened.
“The fact remains it flew where it should not have done,” said Riazul Haq, director general of the agency.
Rescue workers searched areas of the hills scorched by the crash, but they struggled through the mud and relentless rain. Helicopters could not fly in the downpour and low clouds, said Ramzan Sajid, a spokesman for the Capital Development Authority, which helps handle emergencies.
The rain caused flooding elsewhere in the country that washed away roads, collapsed homes and killed at least 60 people in the northwest alone, with many others missing.
The government declared Thursday a day of mourning for those lost in the crash, which was the latest tragedy to jolt a country that has seen thousands of deaths in recent years from al-Qaida and Taliban attacks. Officials expect DNA tests will be required to identify most victims because of the condition of the bodies.
An Associated Press Television News cameraman saw relatives of the Airblue passengers working with soldiers and civilian rescuers at one crash site, where the undercarriage of the jet had come to rest. They collected body parts in small bags.
Dozens of relatives and friends of crash victims slept outside Islamabad’s largest hospital overnight, hoping to receive bodies. On Thursday morning, they hugged one another, tears mixing with raindrops, but few corpses were released.
Ejaz Ahmed brought his wife to a government center to give blood so that the DNA could help identify her brother.
“We are being told that it may take one week for them to give us a body,” Ahmed said. “It is just multiplying our agony. Once a funeral is held and a body is buried, only that can lessen the family’s pain.”
In Karachi, the massive southern city where the flight originated, some families received coffins containing remains.
Khalid Rasheed lost two brothers, both of whose bodies were identified and sent to Karachi for burial. One brother had been hoping to board a different flight. Another’s wife is expecting a child.
“It is all fate. It is written â€” the time you are bound to leave this world,” Rasheed said.
Many of the victims were young, such as Rubab Zehra, 21, a resident of Karachi, who was described as a dedicated student and an avid reader.
“Whenever I had any problem, she always hugged me and helped me out,” said her brother, Mustafa Naqvi. “We are broken. We have lost our best family member.”
At least two Americans were on the plane, according to the U.S. Embassy.
In the U.S., Paulette Kirksey said her godmother, Rosie Ahmed of Gadsden, Alabama, and her husband, Saleem Ahmed, were among the dead. Rosie Ahmed was in Pakistan to arrange for her husband to move to the United States, Kirksey said. She said Rosie Ahmed was in her late 50s.