KARACHI: A Pakistani passenger plane with about 100 people on board crashed into a residential area in the southern city of Karachi while on approach to the airport on Friday (May 22), with at least one passenger surviving but many others feared dead, officials said.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK 8303 was close to landing when it came down on houses, sparking an explosion and sending plumes of smoke into the air that could be seen from some distance away.
Some roofs caved in, and debris lay scattered in streets as ambulances rushed through chaotic crowds.
At least one passenger on fight PK 8303, a banker, survived and spoke to officials in hospital, provincial government spokesman Abdur Rashid Channa said.
"Thank you so much. God has been merciful," a government statement cited the passenger, Zafar Mahmood, as saying.
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 in the area where the plane crashed.
Pakistan's civil aviation authority said there had been 91 passengers and eight crew on board the Airbus A320.
No survivors had been expected among those on board, the city's mayor Waseem Akhtar had told Reuters earlier on Friday afternoon.
"At the moment we have the view that there will be no survivors from the plane itself but it is not confirmed," Akhtar said by phone from the scene of the crash.
Rescue workers and local residents pulled people from the debris, as firefighters tried to put out the flames.
Residents near the scene said their walls shook before a big explosion erupted as the plane slammed into their neighbourhood.
"I was coming from the mosque when I saw the plane tilting on one side. The engines' sounds were quite weird. It was so low that the walls of my house were trembling," said 14-year-old witness Hassan.
"I heard a big bang and woke up to people calling for the fire brigade," Karachi resident Mudassar Ali told AFP.
PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez Khan said the flight lost contact with air traffic control just after 2.30pm local time.
"The last we heard from the pilot was that he has some technical problem," he said in a video statement.
"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."
Interior minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah said the plane developed a technical fault and that the pilot had said the aircraft lost an engine and issued a mayday call.
A senior civil aviation official told Reuters earlier that it appeared the plane was unable to open its wheels due to a technical fault prior to landing, but it was to early to determine the cause.
The jet, which tracking website FlightRadar24.com identified as a 15-year-old Airbus A320, was flying from the eastern city of Lahore to Karachi in the south.
It was on its sixth flight after returning to service following a widespread airline industry grounding in March over the coronavirus crisis, the website added.
The pilot told air traffic controllers the plane had lost engine power, according to liveatc.net, which has released aircraft recordings in the past.
"We are returning back, sir, we have lost engines," a man was heard saying in a recording released by the website. Reuters could not authenticate the recording and there was no immediate comment on it from the airline, Airbus or the aviation authority.
PRIME MINISTER PROMISES INQUIRY
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was "shocked and saddened" by the crash, tweeting that he was in touch with the state airline's chief executive.
"Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased," he said.
The Pakistan military said security forces have been deployed to the area 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.
Local TV station Geo showed crowds near the scene which appeared to be a densely populated area, and ambulances trying to make their way through.
Black smoke billowed and several cars were on fire.
"The areoplane first hit a mobile tower and crashed over houses," witness Shakeel Ahmed said near the site, just a few kilometres short of the airport.
The disaster comes as Pakistanis across the country are preparing to celebrate the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, with many travelling back to their homes in cities and villages.
Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.
Aviation safety experts say air crashes typically have multiple causes and warn that it is far too early to understand them within the first hours or days.
In 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from the remote northern 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.