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Airplane crash in Pakistan claims 152 people aboard

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By The Staff

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A passenger jet crashed into the hills surrounding Pakistan's capital amid poor weather Wednesday, killing all 152 people on board and blazing a path of devastation strewn with body parts and twisted metal wreckage.

Initial Interior Ministry reports that five people survived the Airblue crash were wrong, said Imtiaz Elahi, chairman of the Capital Development Authority, which deals with emergencies and reports to the ministry.

"The situation at the site of the crash is heartbreaking," Elahi told The Associated Press. "It is a great tragedy, and I confirm it with pain that there are no survivors."

The dead included two U.S. citizens, the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Richard Snelsire, said without providing further details.

Local TV footage showed twisted metal wreckage hanging from trees and scattered across the ground on a bed of broken branches. Fire was visible and smoke rose from the scene as a helicopter hovered above. The army said it was sending special troops to aid the search.

"I'm seeing only body parts," Dawar Adnan, a rescue worker with the Pakistan Red Crescent, told the AP by telephone from the crash site. "This is a very horrible scene. We have scanned almost all the area, but there is no chance of any survivors."

The search effort was hampered by muddy conditions and smoldering wreckage that authorities were having trouble extinguishing by helicopter, Adnan said.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said the government does not suspect terrorism.

The plane left the southern city of Karachi at 7:45 a.m. for a two-hour scheduled flight to Islamabad and was trying to land during cloudy and rainy weather, said Pervez George, a civil aviation official.

Airblue is a private service based in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, and Wednesday's flight was believed to be carrying mostly Pakistanis.

Rescue workers scouring the heavily forested hills recovered nearly 80 bodies from the wreckage, said Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority in a statement.

"The plane was about to land at the Islamabad airport when it lost contact with the control tower, and later we learned that the plane had crashed," said George, adding the model was an Airbus 321 and the flight number was ED202.

The crash site covered a large area on both sides of the hills, including a section behind Faisal Mosque, one of Islamabad's most prominent landmarks, and not far from the Daman-e-Koh resort.

At the Islamabad airport, hundreds of friends and relatives of those on board the flight swarmed ticket counters desperately seeking information. A large cluster of people also surrounded a passenger list posted near the Airblue ticket counter.

Saqlain Altaf told Pakistan's ARY news channel he was on a family outing in the hills when he saw the plane looking unsteady in the air. "The plane had lost balance, and then we saw it going down," he said, adding he heard the crash.

Officials at first thought it was a small plane, but later revised that. George said 146 passengers were on the flight along with six crew members.

The Pakistan Airline Pilot Association said the plane appeared to have strayed off course, possibly because of the poor weather.