Wednesday: Pakistani Plane Crashes Outside Islamabad; Gulf Spill Oil Is Vanishing, but Concerns Remain

BY Lea Winerman  July 28, 2010 at 10:15 AM EST


Pakistani rescuers search for bodies in the wreckage of a plane crash (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistani Passenger Plane Crashes Near Islamabad, 152 Dead

A Pakistani passenger plane crashed in the heavily forested hills outside Islamabad Wednesday morning, killing all 152 passengers and crew aboard — including two Americans.

The plane, an Airbus A321 operated by the Pakistani airline Airblue, had taken off from Karachi at about 7:50 a.m. local time for the two-hour flight. Officials said they do not yet know what caused the crash, but Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said the government does not suspect terrorism, the Associated Press reported.

Pervez George, a civil aviation authority spokesman, told the Washington Post that bad weather may have played a part. The plane was attempting to land in a heavy monsoon downpour.

George told the paper that the control tower lost contact with the plane as it was about to land. “We got the news later that it had crashed in the Margalla hills,” north of the Pakistani capital.

Rescue workers fought smoke, flames and still-heavy rains as they tried to find survivors and recover bodies. Imtiaz Inayat Elahi, chairman of Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority, told the Pakistani television station Express TV that 150 rescuers were at the site. But he said that the work was hampered by harsh conditions in the forested hills, the New York Times reported. “Helicopters cannot just land there,” he said.

The Interior Ministry initially reported at least five survivors, but Elahi later said all 146 passengers and six crew members had been killed.

A witness said the plane looked unsteady in the air before it crashed. Saqlain Altaf told Pakistan’s ARY news channel that he was on a family outing in the Margalla hills when he saw it, the BBC reported

“The plane had lost balance, and then we saw it going down,” he said.

Raheel Ahmed, a spokesman for the Airblue, told the Associated Press that the plane had no known technical issues, and the pilots did not send any emergency signals. He said an investigation would be launched into the cause of the crash.

100 Days After Spill, Oil Is Vanishing but Questions Remain

It’s been 100 days since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and set off the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The Alabama Press-Register has a timeline of the spill.

Incoming BP CEO Bob Dudley told CNN that he believes it’s likely that no more oil will flow into the Gulf. “I think — no guarantees — but I believe there will be no more oil flowing into the Gulf as of the 15th of July,” he said.

That’s the date that BP installed a sealing cap that has kept the oil shut in, as BP works to complete the relief wells that will kill the well for good.

In an interview with NPR, Dudley cautioned against any legislative action that would prevent it from operating in the Gulf of Mexico, saying such a move could have “unintended consequences.”

Meanwhile, oil on the surface of the water is becoming more difficult to find, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director Jane Lubchenco said Tuesday. Oil breaks down quickly, and, the New York Times reported, reporters flying over the area Sunday saw only a few patches of sheen and an occasional streak of thicker oil. But, the paper said, the good news still leaves tricky questions unanswered about the effects of the spill:

The effect on sea life of the large amounts of oil that dissolved below the surface is still a mystery. Two preliminary government reports on that issue have found concentrations of toxic compounds in the deep sea to be low, but the reports left many questions, especially regarding an apparent decline in oxygen levels in the water.

And understanding the effects of the spill on the shorelines that were hit, including Louisiana’s coastal marshes, is expected to occupy scientists for years. Fishermen along the coast are deeply skeptical of any declarations of success, expressing concern about the long-term effects of the chemical dispersants used to combat the spill and of the submerged oil, particularly on shrimp and crab larvae that are the foundation of future fishing seasons.

Wikileaks Founder Says Documents Source Is Unknown

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told journalists Tuesday night that he doesn’t know the identity of the person who leaked the 91,000 secret Afghan war military documents that he published on his site this week.

“We never know the source of the leak,” he said, speaking at London’s Frontline Club, AP reported. “Our whole system is designed such that we don’t have to keep that secret.”

On Tuesday’s NewsHour, Alex Jones of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center for the Press and David Leigh from The Guardian examined what the WikiLeaks Afghan document blitz means for journalists.