KARACHI (Reuters) – A Pakistan International Airlines Airbus jet with 99 people on board crashed into residential buildings in the Pakistani city of Karachi on Friday afternoon while approaching the airport.
At least two passengers survived but many others were feared dead.
Smoke billowed from the scene where flight PK 8303 came down at about 2:45 p.m. (0945 GMT). Twisted sections of fuselage lay in the rubble of multi-storey buildings as ambulances rushed through chaotic crowds.
At least two passengers survived – including Zafar Masood, president of the Bank of Punjab, the Sindh provincial government said. The bank said he had suffered some fractures but was “conscious and responding well”.
Seemin Jamali, executive director at the nearby Jinnah Hospital, said 17 dead bodies and six wounded people had been brought in. There were no estimates of casualties on the ground.
“The aeroplane first hit a mobile tower and crashed over houses,” witness Shakeel Ahmed said near the site, a few kilometres short of the airport.
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.
“WE HAVE LOST ENGINES”
The crash happened on the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid, when Pakistanis traditionally travel to visit relatives.
The plane was on its second attempt to land after cancelling a previous one in a routine manoeuvre known as a go-around, one person familiar with the investigation said.
The pilot told air traffic controllers he had lost power from both engines, according to a recording posted on liveatc.net, a widely 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,” said the state carrier’s spokesman, Abdullah H. Khan.
“He was told from the final approach that both the runways were ready where he can land, but the pilot decided that he wanted to do (a) go-round … It is a very tragic incident.”
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.
SEARCH FOR BLACK BOXES
A search immediately began for the two flight recorders or ‘black boxes’, one for cockpit conversations and the other for data, which could provide vital clues.
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.
Army and rescue services rushed to the area, which appeared to be densely populated. Footage showed cars on fire.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash. Am in touch with PIA CEO Arshad Malik, who has left for Karachi & with the rescue & relief teams on ground as this is the priority right now.
“Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also offered condolences.
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.
Pakistan’s worst plane disaster was in 2010, when an AirBlue flight crashed near Islamabad, killing 152 people.
Additional reporting Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad, Gibran Peshimam in Karachi and Tim Hepher in Paris; Writing and reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Kevin Liffey