Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The unforgotten graveyard

Following is the dilapidated graveyard of 119 Pakistan passengers thousands of miles away from Pakistan, yet still unforgotten by many - can you guess where it could be? 
PK 705 Cairo Graveyard
Photo credit Wikipedia
These unlucky 119 crew / passengers were aboard Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK 705, the inaugural flight to CairoEgypt. The flight had taken off from Karachi, had a brief stay at Dharan Airport, Saudi Arabia and then headed for Cairo on 20 May 1965. The aircraft was Boeing 720–040B serial AP-AMH, which had on board one of the best crew of PIA, flown by Captain Ali Akhtar Khan (captain of the flight) and Captain Afzal Johari (the co-pilot), and some of the best journalists of Pakistan and a number of important travel agents, going to Cairo to open a new vista between the relations of Egypt and Pakistan.
The ill-fated PIA's Boeing 720-040 serial AP AMH [Photo credit: Aparm / Abbas Ali Collection ]

The flight was as normal as any flight could be and contacted the Cairo Air Traffic Control (ATC) and was cleared for landing for a left-hand approach circuit for runway 34 at about 23:40 GMT. The crew of the aircraft reported final alignment to the ATC thereafter. But that was the last transmission made by the aircraft. When the aircraft did not land in the stipulated period of time, it worried the Cairo ATC who rang the alarm bells.
PIA Boeing 720-040B wreckage
The wreckage of the ill-fated PK-705 at Cairo - 20 May 1965 [Photo Credit: History of PIA ]
The ill-fated inaugural flight PK-705 was found crashed short of the runway in the blowing sands of Egypt. There were only six survivors. This was the 4th loss of a Boeing 720, of which 154 were built at that time and was the worst accident of the time, and second till date.
Capt. Ali Akhtar Khan (above left) with Capt. Khusro Nawaz Khan (my paternal uncle) aboard a PIA Boeing 720B jetliner. Capt. Ali Akhtar Khan died as commander of PIA flight PK-705 which crashed near Cairo Airport on May 20, 1965. At the time of his death Capt. Ali Akhtar Khan was the senior most pilot in PIA (Capt. Khusro Nawaz Khan Family Collection/Source)
Momi Gul Durrani, one of the best air hostesses who perished int the crash [Photo History of PIA]
I was 10 years old then, and this was the first aircraft accident news of PIA that I heard and was really saddened as newspapers of the time filled countless photos of those who perished in the crash. I remember how stories later came up that there were few passengers who were late and were left out and how they lamented having been missed out at the airport - only to find out how lucky they came out to be for having missed the ill-fated aircraft.

Nothing conclusive was found after the aircraft accident inquiry except the following:
"The aircraft was found struck in the ground short of the runway, in a slight left-bank attitude with its undercarriage up and flaps set at 20 degrees."
"The aircraft did not maintain the adequate height for the circuit and continued to descend until it contacted the ground. The reason for that abnormal continuation of descent is unknown."
"The aircraft crashed during approach. The plane descended during the approach at triple the normal rate. The aircraft exceeded the recommended descent rate during the final stages of landing. Landing Gear was down and locked, however flaps and slats had not been deployed, and wing was in level flight/cruise configuration."
Many would have forgotten the accident, which is seemingly visible from the rather dilapidated condition of the graveyard at the site of the crash - where now only howling winds of the desert visit day and night - no one else.

Updated (based on Dawn News 27th November 2011):
I was lucky to get a detailed account of the air crash from one of the surviving passengers of the ill-fated PIA's flight PK-705 and am part sharing it for those who wish to know more about the tragedy.

Shaukat A. Mecklai, now 93, was the General Manager of a travel agency, The Universal Express, who boarded PK-705 with his wife on the inaugural flight to Cairo.
He remembers that they had put on their hats and collected their cabin luggage as the plane took one circle around Cairo Airport before being cleared for landing for runway 34 when it crashed on the ground short of the runway. “I remember seeing the right wing on fire before I blacked out. I was still semiconscious when I opened my eyes again and didn’t realize that I was screaming out my own name ‘Shaukat! Shaukat!’ instead of calling for help. Another passenger, a young man himself bleeding from the head, came to my rescue. I was badly hurt but he pulled me out of the wreck. There were dead bodies and luggage lying all around us. I saw my wife’s lifeless form among them. My eyes saw but there was no reaction. Still in a state of shock, a film of my life went through my mind, of my childhood and all the things I had seen and done in life and those things, too, that I had put off doing later. Thinking my life would soon be over, I thought of God and said that if He gave me another chance to live, I would do everything with the thought of there being no tomorrow, and that I would devote myself to serve others less fortunate than myself,” Mecklai shares.
Suddenly they saw a lot of people come towards them. The passenger pulling out survivors from the burning plane ran to them and said “Allah-o-Akbar” but they were not really there for help. All they did was pick up the luggage and walk off. By the time help came, some five to six hours after the accident, many victims who had been groaning from pain earlier had already died. The authorities seemed ill-equipped to handle such a big disaster. The rescue helicopter didn’t even have a stretcher.
Finally, there were only six survivors. Mecklai had injured his back and broken his ribs from which he recovered in time but the emotional injuries that he had suffered were to be carried for good. A happily married man was suddenly a widower and a single father to three children. But he knew that he had to carry on no matter what, a feeling that became stronger on his return to Karachi where he and the other survivors were greeted by a big crowd that felt that there was something very special about the six to have survived such a major crash and wanted to touch them to feel blessed themselves.
Jalal-al-Karimi, the gentleman who had pulled Mecklai out of the plane wreck on that fateful day 46 years ago, is still a friend and both often find each other and sometimes share the sad memories of how happy, smiling and beaming faces perished in the desert around Cairo forever.

Read full account of Mecklai's reminisces of the event at Dawn.
Details of all passengers aboard PK-705 are given at Wikipedia
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Ali Akbar said...

Jalal thanks for narrating this sad incident,which occurred, once we didn't have the current means of communication.
I would appreciate if you may find out names of some of the prominent passengers of that ill fated flight.

Shia islam victory said...

What was capt ali akatar khan doing to the control of the 720

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Anonymous said...

My father’s first wife and twin (boy & girl) children died on this flight on their tragic way from Pakistan over to England to join him in London after living many years apart. I am born of the second wife and learnt of the incident in my teens - always curious now I am 50 yrs of age myself and my father is deceased back in 2006 himself. May Allah bless them all. Thank you for your informative writing.