Jet crashes moments before landing at airport in Karachi
Rescue workers scoured the wreckage of the aircraft and sifted through gutted and damaged buildings in the neighbourhood looking for more likely survivors or bodies, including of residents who may have perished.Updated: May 23, 2020 04:31 IST
A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Airbus A-320, on a flight originating from Lahore, crashed into a densely populated Karachi neighbourhood near the airport on Friday afternoon and erupted into a fireball, killing most of the 107 passengers and crew on board, but leaving at least three confirmed survivors.
Rescue workers scoured the wreckage of the aircraft and sifted through gutted and damaged buildings in the neighbourhood looking for more likely survivors or bodies, including of residents who may have perished.
The aircraft, which made two approaches ahead of landing, initially reported a problem with its landing gear. On its second approach, the pilot informed air traffic control that the plane’s engines had failed.
He then gave the distress “Mayday” call as the aircraft veered off its flight path and descended rapidly into the Model Colony neighbourhood before crashing, as seen on video footage shared by a person who captured it using his cellphone.
As the plane crashed into a row of houses, it erupted into a fireball that may have killed residents of the area. “We are now focusing on rescue efforts so we don’t know the exact death toll. But there have also been deaths of people who were in the houses that caught fire,” said provincial minister of Sindh Nasir Shah.
Shah said that at this stage it was difficult to determine who may have been on board the plane or who may have been a resident of the area and died when the aircraft crashed.
By 8pm, at least 40 people were confirmed dead in the crash. This number is expected to rise as more bodies are extricated and brought to the city’s hospitals.
In a purported recording of a conversation with the air traffic control (ATC), one of the pilot is heard saying he has lost both engines, before he issues a “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” distress message. The recording was uploaded on liveatc.net, which compiles recordings of conversations between pilots and ATCs across the world from aviation hobbyists who can listen in to these through particular kinds of radio sets.
Local TV stations reported that three people sitting in the front row of the aircraft survived and showed video of a man on a stretcher they identified as Zafar Masood, the head of the Bank of Punjab.
One of the other survivors, Muhammad Zuabir, was admitted to a local hospital with burn injuries. He told journalists that prior to crashing, the plane had made two approaches to land.
Thick smoke swirled out of the Model Colony neighbourhood. At least four houses were completely gutted and 20 damaged in the crash. Model Colony is located next to the Malir Cantonment area from where military personnel were quick to arrive to start rescue operations.
Rescue workers were seen breaking down walls and physically moving cars in the densely populated street where the aircraft crashed to make way for rescue vehicles. Hundreds of people gathered in the area, hampering rescue efforts.
A spokesperson for the Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (PALPA) said the captain of the aircraft, Sajjad Gul, was one of the senior most pilots of the airline.
Aviation experts surmised that the crash may have taken place because the aircraft ran out of fuel on its second approach or had hit a bird. Civil aviation authorities told the media that they had prepared for a belly landing of the aircraft, which also suggested that the pilot may have jettisoned extra fuel prior to the second approach.
PIA officials have ruled out the possibility that the plane was not safe to fly. “We are an international airline and we maintain international safety standards,” a spokesman for PIA told the media.