A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Airbus jet with 99 people aboard crashed into a crowded residential district of the city of Karachi yesterday afternoon after twice trying to land at the airport, a witness said.
At least 80 people were confirmed to have died, provincial health authorities said, but it was not immediately clear whether they included casualties on the ground.
Two passengers survived, including Zafar Masood, president of the Bank of Punjab, a Sindh provincial government spokesman said.
The bank said he had suffered fractures but was “conscious and responding well”.
The other survivor, engineer Mohamed Zubair, told Geo News that the pilot came down for one landing, briefly touched down, then took off again.
After around 10 more minutes of flying, the pilot announced to passengers he was going to make a second attempt, then crashed as he approached the runway, Zubair said from his bed in Civil Hospital Karachi.
“All I could see around was smoke and fire,” he added. “I could hear screams from all directions. Kids and adults.”
“All I could see was fire. I couldn’t see any people – just hear their screams.
“I opened my seat belt and saw some light – I went towards the light.
“I had to jump down about 10 feet to get to safety.”
Smoke billowed from the scene where flight PK 8303 came down about 2.45pm (0945 GMT).
It slammed into the Model Colony neighbourhood some 2km from the runway.
PIA has released a passenger manifest, according to which there were 91 passengers on board: 51 men, 31 women and nine children.
Twisted fuselage lay in the rubble of multi-storey buildings as ambulances rushed through chaotic crowds.
Witnesses told local television channels they saw the plane circling around the airport before coming down.
Smoke billowed from the scene where the aircraft came down, some roofs had caved in, and debris lay scattered in streets as ambulances rushed through chaotic crowds.
Rescue workers and local residents pulled people from the debris, as firefighters tried to extinguish the flames.
The rescue operation was moving ahead slowly because heavy machinery could not move into the narrow streets, broadcaster Dunya television reported.
An AFP reporter witnessed charred bodies being loaded into ambulances.
A total of 80 bodies were brought to JPMC hospital and the Civil Hospital Karachi, the media co-ordinator for the health minister of Sindh said in a communique.
The airline’s chief executive, Arshad Malik, told reporters he knew of 41 confirmed deaths.
Seconds before the crash, the pilot told air traffic controllers he had lost power from both engines, according to a recording posted on liveatc.net, a respected aviation monitoring website.
“We are returning back, sir, we have lost engines,” a man was heard saying in a recording released by the website.
The controller freed up both the airport’s runways but moments later the man called: “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”
There was no further communication from the plane, according to the tape, which could not immediately be authenticated.
“The last we heard from the pilot was that he has some technical problem ... it is a very tragic incident,” said the state carrier’s spokesman, Abdullah H Khan.
Another senior civil aviation official told Reuters it appeared the plane had been unable to lower its undercarriage for the first approach due to a technical fault, but it was too early to determine the cause.
Aviation safety experts say air crashes typically have multiple causes, and that it is too early to understand them within the first hours or days.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash ... Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”
Airbus said the jet first flew in 2004 and was fitted with engines built by CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran.
The Airbus A320 was flying from the eastern city of Lahore to Karachi in the south just as Pakistan was resuming domestic flights in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the aircraft tracking website FlightRadar24.
Aviation safety experts say that air crashes typically have multiple causes and warn that it is far too early to understand them within the first hours or days.
In Pakistan’s most recent deadly crash, 47 people died when a PIA jet smashed into a mountainside in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in 2016, after one of its two turboprop engines failed.
In 2012, all 127 people on board Bhoja Air, a small private airline, travelling from Karachi to Islamabad were killed when the plane crashed in the approach area.
The country’s worst plane disaster was in 2010, when an AirBlue flight crashed near Islamabad, killing 152 people.
An official report blamed the 2010 accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere.
The Airbus first flew in 2004 and was fitted with engines built by CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran, according to FlightRadar24.
It was on its sixth flight after returning to service following a widespread airline industry grounding in March over the coronavirus crisis, the website added.
PIA, one of the world’s leading airlines until the 1970s, now suffers from a sinking reputation due to frequent cancellations, delays and financial troubles.
It has been involved in numerous controversies over the years, including the jailing of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013.
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