97 dead after passenger jet crashes near Karachi airport

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Ninety-seven people were killed and two survived when a passenger plane crashed into homes in the southern city of Karachi, health officials said Saturday, giving what they said was their final toll for those on the aircraft.

The bodies of the passengers and crew killed had been recovered from the site near the city's airport, the Sindh Health Ministry said.

The rescue operation following Friday's crash ended in the early hours of Saturday.

At least five houses were reportedly hit in the densely populated area where the plane came down minutes before it was due to land at nearby Jinnah International Airport.

It was not immediately clear whether the deaths included casualties on the ground.

Officials said at least two passengers had survived while dozens of bodies were taken to local hospitals.

The airline said there were 91 passengers and eight crew on board flight PK 8303 from Lahore to Karachi. Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority had initially said there were 107 people on board.

Footage showed plumes of smoke rising from the site of the crash and people running from the scene screaming. Ambulances and rescue officials arrived at the scene to help residents soon after the plane went down at 2.45pm local time.

The civil aviation authority said the pilot called in a mayday warning that he had lost an engine as the plane attempted to land.

In a transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control, posted on the website LiveATC.net, he is heard saying “Sir - mayday, mayday, mayday, mayday Pakistan 8303,” before the recording ends.

“The last we heard from the pilot was that he has some technical problem,” PIA spokesman Abdullah H Khan said in a video statement. “It is a very tragic incident."

A senior civil aviation official told Reuters it appeared the plane was unable to lower its wheels due to a technical fault prior to landing, but it was too early to determine the cause.

An emergency was declared at Jinnah International Airport and government hospitals.

Seemin Jamali, a director from Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College in Karachi, said eight dead and 15 injured people had been taken there.

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

Police wearing protective masks struggled to clear away crowds to allow a firetruck and an ambulance to move through the narrow streets toward the crash site, as they cordoned off the area.

The crash comes just days after the country restarted commercial flights following the coronavirus shutdown. Many Pakistanis were travelling home to their families on Friday to celebrate Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Video circulated on social media appeared to show the aircraft flying low over a residential area with flames shooting from one of its engines.

Witnesses said the Airbus A320 appeared to attempt to land two or three times before crashing in the crowded residential area, which is located in a poor part of the city.

Flightradar24 said in a blog post the altitude data "shows a typical climb, cruise, and descent, followed by a go around and at least one additional landing attempt".

Flight PK8303's altitude. Courtesy Flightradar24.com

A local resident, Abdul Rahman, said he saw the aircraft circle at least three times as though trying to land before it crashed into several houses.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked and saddened by the PIA crash. Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers and condolences go to families of the deceased.”

Pakistan has a poor aviation safety record. In 2010, a plane operated by private airline Airblue crashed near Islamabad and killed all 152 people on board in the deadliest air disaster in Pakistani history.

In 2014, a passenger died when an Airbus A310 flying from Saudi Arabia was hit by bullets as it approached Peshawar in Pakistan.

And in December 2016, all 47 passengers and crew on board a domestic flight from Chitral to Islamabad where killed when the flight crashed on a hillside.

Airbus did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the crash. The flight typically takes an hour and a half from the northeastern city of Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, to Karachi.

The plane, an Airbus A320-200, is about 16 years old and was previously owned by China Eastern Airlines. It was withdrawn from use in 2014 and was transferred to PIA in October 2014, according to planespotters.net.

According to data from flight tracking website Flightradar24, the plane (registration AP-BLD) was used yesterday on a repatriation flight between Muscat and Lahore.

Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on 1 November 2019. PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate on April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted on the plane and that “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.

Updated: May 23, 2020 06:32 AM

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