The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Fokker plane that crashed near Kohat on Thursday morning might have hit a 2,500-foot high hillside in the Tolanj mountain range.

The crash killed PAF chief Air Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir, his wife Bilquis Mushaf, two air vice marshals and several other senior officers.

Talking to Gulf News, a retired senior PAF officer felt the plane was flying below the clouds when it met the accident. "The pilot had no business to fly under the clouds even if the weather was bad. The plane cannot go down beyond a certain altitude," he stressed.

Requesting anonymity, the retired air force officer blamed pilot error and inclement weather for the crash. "It most probably was an error of judgement by the pilot. The Tolanj ridge is the highest point on this route and the plane might have hit it while flying at a low altitude in poor visibility," he opined.

The Fokker plane's pilot was Squadron Leader Ahmed Yousaf while the navigator was Squadron Leader Mumtaz Kiani. Both perished in the crash.

In reply to a question, the retired officer said there was nothing wrong if the air chief's wife or two air vice marshals accompanied him on the flight to Kohat.

"It wasn't a violation of rules. The important thing is that the vice chief of air staff didn't fly in the same flight because he is the one to take charge in case the air chief dies or is incapacitated," he explained.

He added that the air chief's wife routinely accompanies her husband on visits to airbases to participate in Pakistan Air Force Women's Association (PAFWA) activities and spend time with families of low-paid employees.

As for the PAF's preparedness to absorb the loss of the air chief and several senior officials, the retired officer pointed out that the PAF due to the nature of its job always has contingency plans to deal with emergencies.

"Everything is planned in the PAF. It can react quickly and absorb losses. No doubt the loss of so many officers is a grief and a setback but the PAF is capable of coping with the tragedy," he contended.

Meanwhile, analysts as well as retired air force officers are adamant that the crash was not the result of any terrorist attack or of the so-called "friendly fire."

In fact, the theory of "friendly fire" was being laughed at because Gambat, the nearest town to the site of the crash, is far away from the tribal areas or the border with Afghanistan.

There were not any U.S. warplanes or personnel in or near Gambat who could have fired at the ill-fated Fokker plane. Also, Gambat is not an operating area of Al Qaida members because the U.S. military authorities normally suspect the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan to be their hideout.

Meanwhile, students of the PAF College at the airbase in Kohat were shocked to learn about the crash of Air Marshal Mir because the air chief was also scheduled to attend their annual day.

Some students said it was announced in their college at 8.30am that the air chief's plane had left the Chaklala airbase and would be reaching Kohat in about 15 minutes.

They said all of them waited in anticipation at the parade ground to welcome the PAF chief and herald the start of their annual day programmes. They said concern and anxiety pervaded the place when the plane failed to arrive at the appointed time. It did not take long for them to figure out that the plane had crashed on its way to Kohat.

The hill where the Fokker plane came down is near Tolanj village, inhabited mostly by Afridi Pashtuns. The low-altitude Tolanj mountain range starts from Khushalgarh, where a bridge across the river Indus links the NWFP with Punjab and goes up to Gambat, where the population is largely Khattak, and beyond.

Villagers near the site of the crash told reporters that they heard the plane making loud noises and swinging wildly before coming down. They rushed towards that place but didn't have anything to put down the flames. They did their best to extinguish the fire and retrieve bodies.

However, they saw no survivors as they found bodies in a stretch of area spread over two furlongs. The villagers also helped armed forces personnel, who arrived there to start rescue work.

According to former PML-N MNA from Kohat, Javed Ibrahim Paracha, eyewitnesses told him that a purse belonging to the only lady in the plane, which obviously was Bilquis Mushaf, had a copy of the Holy Quran that was in perfect shape. Another victim of the crash also carried a copy of the Holy Quran that suffered some minor damage.

Acting air force chief Hussain belongs to the Kurram tribal agency bordering Afghanistan.

Hussain's younger brother Syed Alamdar Hussain was also in the Air force. The latter died when his plane crashed while performing acrobatics during a Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad some years ago.

A third brother, Syed Irshad Hussain, is a senior police officer.