ISLAMABAD – A Pakistan International Airlines flight carrying 99 people crashed on Friday in a residential area close to the airport in the port city of Karachi just before landing, officials said. At least two passengers have miraculously survived the crash.
The exact number of casualties was difficult to ascertain as the state-run airline plane went down into the crowded neighborhood of Model Colony area in Pakistan’s biggest city and the main financial hub.
“We have 60 bodies recovered so far,” Meeran Yusuf, a spokesperson for the health department of the Sindh province, told EFE. She said the rescuers brought the dead bodies to two Karachi hospitals.
However, it was not yet possible to distinguish the victims from the plane from possible fatalities on the ground.
“There are two survivors (from the plane),” the spokesperson said.
A third person earlier reported as a surviving passenger, turned out to be a woman resident of the neighborhood, according to Yusuf.
Officials confirmed that one of the survivors from the plane was Bank of Punjab President Zafar Masud.
The rescuers found at least nine more injured who are residents of the area near the crash site, and four of them were reported to have suffered 60% burn injuries.
The number of dead could run into dozens as reports indicate that the plane touched and skidded off several rooftops of the houses in the residential area before it crashed around 2:30 pm.
The Airbus A320 took off from the eastern city of Lahore and was about to land at Karachi’s Jinnah international airport when it went down.
Online videos and pictures purportedly from the crash site showed plumes of smoke rising from what looked like a cluster of closely packed residential houses amid shrieks and sobs of wailing men and women.
“The plane crashed close to the Karachi airport. It was just one minute away from the airport and fell on a residential area,” Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson Abdul Sattar told EFE, adding that an emergency response protocol was activated immediately.
Sattar initially told EFE that the plane was carrying 99 passengers and eight crew members. However, he later revised the figure to 99, including 91 passengers.
“I cannot say (anything) about the damages at the moment. We cannot say (about) the reason also as it is too early (to ascertain that),” Sattar said.
Air Vice Marshal Arshad Malik, the chief executive officer of the PIA, said the pilot of the plane had informed the control tower that there were some technical difficulties in landing the plane.
“The last voice we heard of the captain was (that) ‘we have a technical problem.’ He said this from the final approach, he was told (by the air traffic controller) that we are ready for landing, both strips are free and you can land but (the pilot) decided to go-round.”
Malik said they would investigate “what exactly happened.”
According to a recording posted on the aviation monitoring website www.liveatc.net, one of the pilots of the crashed plane had sent a distress call to the controllers that the aircraft engines had lost power as he attempted to land for the second time.
“We are returning, sir, we have lost engines,” says the pilot.
“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday,” he made the distress call before the communication snapped.
The crash came as Pakistanis prepare to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, a Muslim festival that marks the end of the month of fasting, over the weekend.
Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered an immediate inquiry into the crash as he tweeted “prayers and condolences” for the families of the deceased.
“Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash. (I) am in touch with PIA CEO Arshad Malik, who has left for Karachi & with the rescue & relief teams on (the) ground, as this is the priority right now.”
The Karachi administration put the city’s main hospitals on alert for emergency medical aid to survivors.
Ambulances and rescue officials arrived at the site to help residents while the Pakistan Army flew in its helicopters for rescue efforts.
The army’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said in a tweet that its Quick Reaction Force and Sindh Pakistan Rangers had arrived at the site for relief and rescue efforts alongside civil administration.
Pakistan experienced one of its worst air tragedies in 2012 when 138 people died in a plane crash near Islamabad.
A PIA flight carrying 48 passengers and crew had crashed on the way to Islamabad from Chitral in the north on Dec. 7, 2016, with no survivors.