No survivors found at Afghan airline crash site

The wreckage of an Afghan passenger plane has been found on a mountainside in Kabul.

Updated: May 21, 2010, 18:03 PM IST

Kabul: Searchers found no survivors Friday among 44 people on board an Afghan commercial airliner that crashed this week on a remote mountain north of the capital of Kabul, the Aviation minister said.

The Antonov-24 operated by Pamir Airways disappeared Monday on a flight from Kunduz to Kabul. The wreckage was spotted Thursday by a search plane on a 13,500-foot (4,100-meter) mountain in Shakar Darah district north of Kabul.

Aviation Minister Mohammadullah Batash told The Associated Press that ground searchers reached the site Friday but found no survivors.

Three Britons and one American were among eight foreign passengers on the plane along with nationals from Pakistan and Australia, according to chief aviation investigator Ghulam Farooq. He did not have precise numbers for Australian and Pakistani passengers.

Russia`s Itar-Tass news agency said three Tajikistan citizens working for the airline were also aboard, possibly among the crew.

Photos supplied by NATO forces show the plane broken into four pieces and strewn across a steep mountainside about 24 miles (38 kilometers) north of Kabul. Bad weather and the rugged mountain terrain hampered the search.

Afghan military search teams collected body parts strewn among traces of snow on the high plateau where the plane went down, according to Associated Press Television News video. Parts of the aircraft slid down a ravine and slammed into a boulder.

The cause of the crash, which occurred in heavy fog, has not been determined. The airline denied allegations of lax safety procedures made by an American photojournalist who said she took a Pamir flight from Kunduz to Kabul on May 4.

Stephanie Sinclair said in an e-mail to a news agency that during the flight, the pilot allowed several passengers to enter the cockpit even though there was turbulence and bad weather. They remained there until the plane landed.

"The whole thing was extremely reckless behavior on everyone`s part. I did complain to a Pamir flight attendant during the flight and then also to the airport office manager when we landed," Sinclair said. "I was assured by the flight attendant that it was `perfectly safe` for there to be these irregularities."

Khalilullah Fruzi, a co-owner of Pamir, dismissed the allegations as "propaganda by our competitors."

"It is wrong, it is illegal," Fruzi said. "There is no additional space for another person in the cockpit. Our pilot was a Tajik-Russian and we never heard such allegations."

Kabul-based Pamir Airways, named after the mountain range of Central Asia, began operations in 1995. It has daily flights to major Afghan cities and flies to Dubai and Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage.

Pamir`s chief executive officer, Amanullah Hamid, said the plane was last inspected about three months ago in Bulgaria. The An-24 is a medium-range twin-turboprop Civil aircraft built in the former Soviet Union from 1950 to 1978. A modernized version is still made in China.

It is widely used by airlines in the developing world due to its rugged design, ease of maintenance and low operating costa.

Elsewhere, a NATO soldier was killed Friday by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said without identifying him by nationality.

Also Friday, a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan`s main southern city of Kandahar, killing one civilian and wounding three children, an official said.

The early morning blast appeared to target an Afghan intelligence service vehicle that drove down a main road in Kandahar city, said Abdul Ali, an intelligence official who was at the scene. Instead, an elderly man took the brunt of the blast — his body could be seen lying in the street.

Three children were injured in the attack and taken to hospitals, he said.

The intelligence vehicle was damaged but no one inside was wounded, Ali said.

Elsewhere, seven insurgents including one would-be suicide car bomber launched an attack on an Afghan border police station in Paktika province on the frontier with Pakistan.

Police opened fire as the bomber tried to enter the grounds of the station, Police chief Dawlat Khan said. Officers killed the bomber before he could detonate the explosives-laden vehicle.

Three other militants outside the vehicle opened fire but were killed in a 30-minute gunbattle. Three others escaped.

One policeman and two civilians were killed and one policeman was wounded, Khan said.

Bureau Report