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Pakistan narrows search for black box

Investigators cut through the debris of Pakistan's worst aviation disaster as the airline's chairman said he was confident the crucial black box would be found in the wreckage on Saturday.

world Updated: Jul 30, 2010 20:08 IST

Investigators cut through the debris of Pakistan's worst aviation disaster as the airline's chairman said he was confident the crucial black box would be found in the wreckage on Saturday.

The Airblue passenger jet slammed into forested hills overlooking the Pakistani capital in heavy rain and poor visibility on Wednesday as it came into land after a morning flight from Karachi, killing all 152 people on board.

The bodies of 102 people have been returned to their families and 62 relatives have given blood being used to DNA test remains, the airline said.

Further human remains - the upper portion of a woman's body and other small pieces of body - were recovered on Friday, rescue worker Abdul Jalil told AFP.

But investigators are now focusing the search on the aircraft's black box, hoping the flight data recorder will provide valuable clues to the fate of the 10-year-old Airbus 321, which was piloted by an experienced captain.

"The tail section was located yesterday but it was buried under a lot of rubble," Airblue chairman Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told AFP.

"They spent today cutting through the rubble and we're hopeful that tomorrow we'll be able to recover the black box," he added.

A five-person team from Airbus in Toulouse, France, was assisting with the recovery and using cutters to slice through the wreckage, he said.

Abbasi said it would be premature to speculate on the causes of the crash, calling for the full investigation to be made public and promising that relatives would be compensated from a 35-million-dollar insurance payout.

"All systems of the aircraft were operational and there was no report of any technical problem," Abbasi said, saying that neither had there been any reports of sabotage.

The plane had clocked up a modest 34,000 hours flying time and the pilot 25,000 had hours of experience, making him one of the most seasoned in Pakistan, Abbasi said.

Questions about the crash have focused on why the pilot was flying so low over the craggy Margalla Hills in a restricted flight zone.

But Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority also said it was too early to apportion blame and warned that a full investigation could take time.

"They are gathering all the details, documented evidences, wreckage samples, conversations and interviews of the witnesses and officials," said the authority's deputy director general Riaz-ul-Haq.

"Representatives of Airbus are conducting a separate inquiry. But the two teams will collaborate whenever and wherever it is deemed necessary.

"We can't blame and hold the pilot responsible for the crash at this stage. We don't know what the actual cause could be."

The crash was the worst aviation tragedy on Pakistani soil, piling more woes on a country that is on the frontline of the war on Al-Qaeda and where Islamist militant bombers have killed more than 3,570 people in the past three years.

Pakistan came under fire from British Prime Minister David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai this week after the leak of thousands of secret US files accused the country of double dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Another 325 people have been killed by torrential rains, and on Monday eight people died when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted mourning rituals in the northwest for a cabinet minister's only son.

Two Americans, an Austrian-born businessman, five children and two babies were among the 152 people on board flight ED 202.

The only deadlier civilian plane crash involving a Pakistani jet occurred when a PIA Airbus A300 crashed into a cloud-covered hillside as it approached the Nepalese capital Kathmandu in 1992, killing 167 people.

First Published: Jul 30, 2010 20:05 IST