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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ISLAMABAD, LAHORE: A PIA flight with 91 passengers and eight crew members on board crashed in a residential area near Karachi airport on Friday killing dozens, civil aviation and airline officials said.
Pakistani news channels showed damaged buildings and cars at the site of the crash, and charred bodies being pulled out from the mangled fuselage. Devastated family members mourned and wailed at the airport and near the crash area, trying to find out if their relatives had survived.
Ghulam Rasool Khosa, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, told Arab News that two people had survived the crash but declined to give further details.
A spokesman for the Health Ministry in Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, confirmed that a third passenger named Tahira Mehmood had survived and was undergoing treatment at a local hospital.
Athar Awan, a spokesman for PIA, said it would be premature to comment on the death toll or the possibility of survivors until rescue operations were over.
Pakistan resumed domestic flights just this week after shutting them down in March amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The plane … took off from Lahore airport at 1 p.m. and approached Karachi airport at the scheduled time,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, senior joint secretary at the Aviation Division, told Arab News. “The pilot made a mayday call at 2:39 p.m. and the plane crashed at the same time in a residential area close to the airport.”
Khokhar said it would be “premature” to comment on the reasons why the 15-year-old A320 Airbus crashed, but that a committee headed by Air Commodore Usman Ghani had been set up to investigate the matter.
“Those injured on board and due to crash went to different hospitals so it is hard to identify who is a surviving passenger,” Saeed Ghani, a senior minister in the Sindh Cabinet, told Arab News. “But two people who we could talk to (and who are alive) have confirmed to us that they were on board.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash. Am in touch with PIA CEO Arshad Malik, who has left for Karachi & with the rescue & relief teams on ground as this is the priority right now. Immediate inquiry will be instituted.”
Rescue officials said they initially faced difficulty in reaching the crash site because of the area’s narrow streets and the huge crowds that had gathered in the neighborhood.
But police and soldiers from the Pakistan Army’s Quick Reaction Force and the paramilitary Rangers quickly dispersed them and cordoned off the area. Witnesses reported the plane plummeting down, and said its rear end hit the ground first.
Mohammed Adil, a resident of Malir area’s Model Colony, said he was offering Friday prayers at a nearby mosque when he heard a huge blast. “I ran to the street and saw the plane had crashed after damaging most of the houses,” Adil told Arab News.
Top Pakistani model Zara Abid was also on the flight. Her last post on Instagram from three days ago showed her inside a small plane, with the caption: “Fly high, it’s good.” Arab News was unable to confirm if she had died in the crash.
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