The search operation was complicated as the plane had plummeted into a gorge between two densely wooded hills, more than an hour by foot from the nearest road.

There were initial reports of up to six passengers being found alive, but these reports later proved to be wrong.

Bodies recovered

All the bodies had been recovered from the site, according to the police.

"You find very few intact bodies. Basically, we are collecting body parts and putting them in bags," Bin Yameen, a senior police official, told Reuters.

"Basically, we are collecting body parts and putting them in bags."

Bin Yameen, police officer

Rain interrupted the airlifting of the bodies, but alternative arrangements were made to bring them down the hillside on ropes should the weather not improve.

Police said they were informed first of a loud explosion, then fire sweeping through the hills that dominate the Islamabad skyline, before confirmation that a passenger plane had crashed.

"When I came, I saw a big ball of smoke and fire everywhere with big pieces of aircraft rolling down the hill," Haji Taj Gul, a police officer, said.

Hundreds of people showed up at Islamabad's largest hospital and the airport seeking information on loved ones.

They swarmed ambulances reaching the hospital, but their hopes fell as rescue workers unloaded body bags filled with body parts. A large cluster of people also surrounded a passenger list posted near the Airblue counter at the airport.

"We don't know who survived, who died, who is injured," Zulfikar Ghazi, who lost four relatives, said. "We are in shock."

Heavy rain

Pervez George, a civil aviation official, said the plane was about to land at the Islamabad airport when it lost contact with the control tower.

The Airbus A-321 belonged to the private Airblue airline.

Bad weather and harash conditions hammpered the operation to recover bodies  [AFP]

Raheel Ahmed, a company spokesman, said: "Apparently the cause of the crash is bad weather, but we leave that to the investigators."

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad said there had been heavy rain in the area in the morning when the plane crashed.

"Visibility was very poor... Questions are now pointing at why the airplane would try and land considering weather conditions were so bad," he said.

"What will be critical is finding the black box which will give the final moments of the cockpit conversation that will give better clues into what happened."

The army sent special troops to the area to help out along with helicopters.

The steep incline of the crash site, made it impossible for helicopters to land in the area, our correspondent said.

The ED202 flight was headed from Karachi to Islamabad.

'Grief and sorrow'

Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, and the cabinet "expressed grief and sorrow over the tragic incident" and offered prayers for passengers who were killed.

"The federal cabinet declared one day national mourning because of this tragic incident. The prime minister called off the cabinet meeting until next week in the wake of this tragic incident," Gilani's office said in a statement.

Qamar Zaman Kaira, the information minister, announced compensation of $5,800 for families of the victims.

Pakistan-based Airblue started operations in 2004 and is flying to many cities in Pakistan as well as five destinations in the Middle East and the UK.

The only previous recorded accident for Airblue was a tailstrike in 2008 at Quetta airport by one of the airline's Airbus 321 jets.

There were no casualties in that incident and damage was minimal, according to the US-based Aviation Safety Network.