MULTAN, Pakistan – A passenger plane slammed into a wheat field and burst into flames minutes after takeoff Monday in eastern Pakistan. All 45 people on board were killed, officials said.
The Fokker F-27 twin-engine aircraft went down on the outskirts of the city of Multan minutes after taking off for Lahore, spiraling in the air before it hit the ground and bursting into flames, witnesses said.
"All 41 passengers and four crew members on board the plane have died," said Iftikhar Babar, the district coordination officer for Multan, which lies about 400 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad.
Malik Bashir, Pakistan International Airlines' station manager at Multan airport, said the cause of the crash was not yet known, but ruled out the possibility of a terrorist attack on the state carrier's plane.
A PIA emergency department official who identified himself by a single name, Bashir, said the dead passengers were all Pakistani. They included two army brigadiers, two judges of the High Court in Lahore and the head of a state-run university in Multan.
A female flight attendant who was pulled alive from the plane's wreckage died later at a hospital, airline security official Mohammed Iqbal said.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf expressed grief over the crash and ordered an investigation to determine the cause, state-run Pakistan Television reported.
Grieving relatives waiting at the hospital wept in anguish and beat their chests.
Bashir said the flight took off normally for the flight to Lahore, the capital of eastern Punjab province. "Whatever happened to it was after takeoff," he said.
Mohammed Nadeem, who lives near the crash site, said the plane was rotating sideways in the air before it hit the ground and went up in flames.
Another witness said the plane hit the ground with a huge thud and its wreckage caught fire.
"The plane begin to come down abruptly. Then it hit the ground. Then there were flames and dust," Arshad Gujjar said.
In August 1989, another PIA Fokker, with 54 people onboard, went down in northern Pakistan on a domestic flight. The plane's wreckage was never found.
In September 1992, a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a mountain in Nepal, killing all 167 people on board. Investigators found the plane was flying 1,500 feet lower than it reported as it approached the Katmandu airport.