Confirmed PIA plane crash death toll at 80: Health authorities

Confirmed PIA plane crash death toll at 80: Health authorities

Rescue workers carry a victim at the site of a passenger plane crash in a residential area near an
Rescue workers carry a victim at the site of a passenger plane crash in a residential area near an airport in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

ISLAMABAD: At least 41 people are confirmed to have been killed in a plane crash in a residential area of Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, Pakistan International Airlines' (PIA) chief executive said on Friday (May 22).

The Airbus jet with 99 people on board crashed after twice trying to land at the airport. 

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 Muhammad Zubair, told Geo News 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.”

Plumes of smoke were sent into the air as rescue workers and residents searched the debris for survivors and firefighters tried to extinguish the flames. An AFP reporter witnessed charred bodies being loaded into ambulances.

Sarfraz Ahmed - a firefighter at the crash site - told AFP the nose of the Airbus A320 and the fuselage had been heavily damaged by the impact, adding that rescuers had pulled four bodies from the wrecked aircraft, including some who were still wearing seatbelts.

Seemin Jamali, a director from Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College in the city, said eight dead and 15 injured people had been brought to the facility.

"They were all from the ground, no (plane) passengers have been brought here," she said.

'WE HAVE LOST ENGINES'

Smoke billowed from the scene where flight PK 8303 came down at about 2:45pm (0945 GMT). Twisted fuselage lay in the rubble of multi-storey buildings as ambulances rushed through chaotic crowds.

The crash happened on the eve of the Muslim Eid festival, when Pakistanis travel to visit relatives.

"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 with 91 passengers and eight crew, civil aviation authorities said, just as Pakistan was resuming domestic flights in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

A total of 80 bodies were brought to JPMC hospital and the Civil Hospital Karachi, the media coordinator 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!".

The Pakistan military said security forces had been deployed to the neighbourhood and helicopters were being used to survey the damage and help ongoing rescue operations, while offering condolences over the "loss of precious lives" in the incident.

A man stands near the debris of a house at the site of a passenger plane crash in a residential are
A man stands near the debris of a house at the site of a passenger plane crash in a residential area near an airport in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

'IMMEDIATE INQUIRY'

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.

Commercial flights resumed only days ago, after planes were grounded during a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.

In 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people.

The deadliest air disaster on Pakistani soil was in 2010, when an Airbus A321 operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi crashed into the hills outside Islamabad as it came into land, killing all 152 people on board.

An official report blamed the accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere.

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.

Source: Agencies/nh

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