Pakistani officials admitted error in the downing of an Afghan military transport plane that was blown from the sky, killing 34 people, when it strayed across the border.
"The plane was hit by mistake," said one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.Official sources in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province said Sunday the plane was shot by anti-aircraft gunners around 8:30 p.m. Saturday after it flew across the border near the town of Karlachi, about 100 miles southwest of the frontier city of Peshawar.
The aircraft, which had turned and was beginning to fly back toward Afghanistan when it was hit, crashed into mountains near the border, officials said. The wreckage was scattered over a wide area.
The sources said all 34 passengers and crew were killed. The bodies had been found and buried, but all except two were charred beyond recognition.
They said only an Afghan woman, named Zada, and a Pakistani girl, named Farida, were identified. But officials said they were mystified why a Pakistani girl would be on the plane, although they said she may have been a student in Afghanistan.
"The ground troops thought it was a warplane on a bombing mission," said an unidentified official. "There are so many violations of our airspace by Afghan warplanes that our forces have to be alert all the time."
Pakistan shelters U.S.-backed Afghan rebels trying to topple the Soviet-supported Afghan regime.
"Ordinary gunners cannot differentiate between warplanes and transport planes, and this one came very low and appeared as if it was about to drop bombs and gave no signals, so they fired at it," the official said.
Witnesses said Afghan rebels in the area fired into the air in jubilation after the plane was downed.