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Plane Crash Kills Pakistan's Air Force Chief - 2003-02-20

Pakistan's Air Force chief and 16 others have died in a plane crash in the Northwest of the country. An investigation is under way.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Air Force, Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan, says the military plane crashed in a hilly area in the northwestern region of Kohat.

He said the Fokker aircraft took off from Islamabad on a routine mission, but lost contact with the control tower 27 minutes later.

"The aircraft was carrying chief of the air staff, Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir. The wreckage of the aircraft was found 17 nautical miles east of Kohat," he announced. "There were a total of nine passengers and eight crew members on board. I feel sad to announce that there are no survivors."

Mr. Khan says that the wife of the 55-year-old Pakistani air chief is among the dead. Several senior air force officials were also killed.

A high level board of inquiry has been set up to determine the cause of the crash. The spokesman declined to comment when asked by reporters whether sabotage was a factor in the crash.

"The weather was fit for flying of Fokker aircraft," he said. "It was an absolutely routine flight for a routine activity. We should avoid speculative analysis at this moment. The crash will be analyzed by board of inquiry from all possible angles."

Eyewitnesses say the sky was overcast at the time the plane went down. The crash was the second of the year for the Pakistan Air Force. Officials say that last year there were 11 such crashes, mainly blamed on technical failure.