A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane with around 100 passengers and crew crashed on Friday in a densely-populated residential area of the city of Karachi, with many feared dead, officials said. At least 45 people were reported killed in the accident that took place days after the coronavirus-induced travel restrictions were lifted in the country.
Flight PK-8303 from Lahore was about to land in Karachi when it crashed at the Jinnah Garden area near Model Colony in Malir, just a minute before its landing, said officials.
The PIA Airbus A320, with 91 passengers and seven crew onboard, crash-landed into the Jinnah housing society located near the airport, a spokesperson of the state carrier said.
By Friday evening, the bodies of 41 people had been recovered, said the airline's chief executive Arshad Mahmood Malik in a press conference, adding the full clearance operation could last two to three days. He said only one survivor had been confirmed from the wreckage -- the president of the Bank of Punjab, Zafar Masud.
However, provincial officials reported at least two survivors, and said at least 60 dead bodies had been recovered.
Faisal Edhi, who heads the charitable Edhi foundation that was assisting rescuers, said 45 bodies have been recovered so far. "Our rescue workers have taken out 45 bodies from the remains of the aircraft," he said.
Edhi said around 25 to 30 residents whose houses were damaged by the plane have also been taken to the hospital, mostly with burn wounds. The aircraft wings during the crash landing hit the houses in the residential colony before crashing down.
"At least 25 houses have been damaged in this incident," Edhi said.
Sindh Health Minister Azra Pechuho said 19 bodies have been shifted from the crash site to Jinnah hospital and another 20 to Civil hospital. Scores of injured were also rushed to hospitals.
"The first priority is to rescue the people. The main hurdle is narrow streets and presence of ordinary people who gathered at the place after the crash but they have been dispersed," said Pechuho.
Sarfraz Ahmed, a firefighter at the crash site, said the nose of the Airbus A320 and the fuselage had been heavily damaged by the impact, adding rescuers had pulled bodies from the aircraft who were still wearing seatbelts.
Seemin Jamali, a director from Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College in the city, said the bodies of eight people killed on the ground had been brought to the facility.
The plane lost contact with the air traffic control at 2.37 pm (local time), said PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez, adding it was too early to say about the technical problems faced by the plane. He said the captain informed the air traffic control that he was having problems with the landing gear before the aircraft disappeared from the radar.
"The last we heard from the pilot was that he has some technical problem," said Hafeez in a video statement.
According to a recording posted on monitoring website liveatc.net, the pilot sent a Mayday and told controllers the aircraft had lost power from both its engines on its second attempt to land.
After the aircraft reportedly called off an earlier attempt to land and went around for a second attempt, a controller radioed the pilot of flight 8303 that he appeared to be turning left, suggesting he was off-course.
The pilot replied, "We are returning back, sir, we have lost engines," and the controller cleared the plane to land on either of Karachi airport's two West-Southwest-facing runways.
Twelve seconds later the pilot called "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday" and was again cleared to use either runway. There was no further communication from the aircraft.
Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar said the landing gear of the plane was not working.
PIA chairman Malik said the pilot told the control tower about having a technical problem and was informed that two airports were available for landing after which he decided to go for a round and crashed.
"It was an (Airbus) A320 which is one of the safest planes. Technically, operationally everything was in place," he said, adding the plane was bought by the airline in 2014.
PIA promised a full independent investigation.
Airbus in a statement said the plane had first entered service in 2004 and was later acquired by PIA a decade later and had logged around 47,100 flight hours.
"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," said the spokesperson.
Streets covered with debris
Television footage showed smoke billowing from the scene, some roofs caved in and debris scattered in the streets as ambulances rushed through chaotic crowds of people.
A resident of the colony who witnessed the crash said the aircraft had fire coming from its wings.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, expressing deep sorrow over the loss of lives, ordered an immediate inquiry into the incident.
Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa condoled the loss of lives and directed the military to provide full assistance to the civil administration in rescue and relief efforts. The Pakistan Army and the Air Force have sent their teams to carry out rescue and relief operations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condoled the loss of lives.
This is the first major aircraft crash in Pakistan after December 7, 2016, when a PIA ATR-42 aircraft from Chitral to Islamabad crashed midway. The crash claimed the lives of all 48 passengers and crew, including singer-cum-evangelist Junaid Jamshed.
A statement by the Pakistan Army's media wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said the Army Quick Reaction Force and Sindh Pakistan Rangers reached the spot to carry out rescue and relief operations alongside civil administration. Pakistan Army Aviation helicopters have also been flown in for damage assessment and rescue efforts.
The Minister of Health and Population Welfare has declared an emergency in all major hospitals of Karachi after the incident, which occurred on a day when Pakistan's interior ministry announced Eid holidays from May 22 to May 27.
(With inputs from agencies)