Searchers find no sign of missing plane


ISLAMABAD, Paskistan -- Military and civilian aircraft backed by ground troops scanned remote areas of the Himalayas for a second day Saturday but found no trace of a Pakistani airliner missing with 54 people on board.

Officials of the state-run Pakistan International Airlines said they suspended until daylgith the search for the PIA Fokker-27 that disappeared early Friday minutes after taking off from the resort city of Gilgit on a 190-mile flight to Islamabad. Four air force helicopters, two army C-130 transport planes and two PIA planes scanned the rugged region, which includes some of the world's highest peaks, aided by troops and civil administration personnel on the ground.


The Indian air force also searched across the 'line of control' that divides the disputed region.

The officials said the teams covered most of the Fokker-27's intended flight path but found no sign of the missing plane. They said the search would be expanded on Sunday and continue until the plane is found.

The white and green colors of PIA planes made spotting the aircraft more difficult amid the snow and trees, they said. A PIA spokeswoman said a C-130 transport plane that crashed in the same area several years ago took eight months to find.


'Obviously, we have less hope now but we can't really say what happened until we find the plane,' the spokeswoman said.

She said there was 'nothing to indicate foul play.'

The last words of the captain to the control tower were, 'I am reaching Bunji,' a town about 3 miles southeast of Gilgit.

The weather was clear in Gilgit when the plane took off but conditions en route were poor. Another PIA Fokker that took off from Gilgit a few minutes before the missing plane landed safely in Islamabad, the spokeswoman said.

On board the missing plane were 49 passengers, including five infants, and five crew members. Among the passengers were two foreigners, American journalist Paul McGorrian and a woman identified on the passenger list only as Sibrys. Her nationality was unknown.

Scores of people, many of them weeping, were gathered at Islamabad airport for news of friends or relatives on the plane.

Since 1963 at least 20 PIA Fokkers have been involved in accidents, five of them fatal, prompting calls for the more than 10-year-old planes to be replaced.

The most recent disaster was in October, 1986, when a PIA Fokker-27 crashed on its approach to the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 13 people. In 1979, a PIA Boeing 77 crashed near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, killing 156 people.


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