ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A suitcase exploded in the cargo bay of an Air France jumbo jet carrying 261 people on a flight to Paris today, forcing the jet to make an emergency landing in Karachi.
The plane landed safely at Karachi Airport after descending from an alititude of 18,000 feet when the blast occured. No injuries were reported, officials said. The plane had taken off from Karachi some 20 minutes before the explosion.
Authorities in Karachi said they were investigating whether the suitcase had contained a bomb. An Air France spokesman in Paris said the blast apparently 'was not a criminal act.'
The Paris-bound Air France flight AF-171 carried 246 passengers and 15 crew. It originated in Manila and stopped in Bangkok before heading to Karachi, sources said. They said 64 passengers had boarded the plane in Karachi.
An airport source said Pakistani security officials were interrogating all 246 passengers in a lounge of the Karachi airport. Another plane was being dispatched to pick up the stranded passengers, officials said.
Airport sources said the plane had left Karachi Airport for Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and was in the air for 20 minutes when the explosion occurred at 18,000 feet.
As the plane lost cabin pressure and fell from 18,000 feet to 5,000 feet, the pilot turned the aircraft around and was able to land safely at Karachi, civil aviation authorities said.
Officials said the aircraft's undercarriage was partially damaged by the explosion.
A hole was found in the baggage area. Authorities said one bag carried some combustible material that exploded, and a strong smell of vinegar came out of the suitcase whichhad been ripped open.
Authorities said the matter was under investigation by airport security officials.
No group claimed responsibility for the explosion.
Several French buildings in Karachi, including Air France's cargo office, were bombed last February. About a dozen Iranians were questioned by Pakistan security officials but released.
France's decision last year to resume arms sales to Iraq, which is fighting a Persian Gulf war against Iran, has resulted in several attacks on French interests worldwide by Iranian Islamic revolutionaries.