Khawaja Dawood/The Santiago Times Special Correspondent
LAHORE – A passenger plane with nearly 100 people on board crashed in a crowded neighbourhood on the edge of the international airport near Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi on Friday just before landing.
A spokesman for national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), confirmed the crash and added that the A320 Airbus was carrying 90 passengers and 8 crew members from Lahore to Karachi on PK 8303.
PIA’s Lahore-Karachi flight PK-8303 crashed on a residential area near Karachi airport a short while ago. Fire fighters trying to control fire in an affected house👇🏼 🔥 ✈️ #planecrash #BREAKING pic.twitter.com/LEg1roPjol
— Danyal Gilani (@DanyalGilani) May 22, 2020
Eyewitnesses said the Airbus A320 appeared to attempt to land two or three times before crashing in a residential area near the airport after what appeared to be an engine failure.
Rescue and civil aviation officials said three people sitting in the front row of the aircraft survived and aired footage of a man on a stretcher they identified as Zaffar Masood, the CEO of the Bank of Punjab.
Wasim Akhtar, the mayor of Pakistan’s most populous city Karachi, said at least five or six houses were destroyed in the crash.
So far, at least 35 bodies have been shifted from the site of the crash to different hospitals.
A spokesperson of the Edhi Foundation, one of the largest charity organizations in the world, said they also brought around 25-30 injured people to the hospital.
Authorities fear more casualties as it is still too early to ascertain the number of people that have been affected by the crash.
A statement by the military’s media wing said Army Quick Reaction Force and Sindh Pakistan Rangers reached the site for relief and rescue efforts alongside civil administration.
Update #PIA Incident:
Pak Army Aviation helicopters flown for damage assessment and rescue efforts.
Urban Search & Rescue Teams are being sent on site for rescue efforts.
— DG ISPR (@OfficialDGISPR) May 22, 2020
Meanwhile, the airlines CEO Air Marshal Arshad Malik left for Karachi soon after the crash. He told the media that the pilot told the control room that there was a technical issue and he decided to go around rather than land even though two runways were ready for landing.
A transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control, posted on the website LiveATC.net, indicated he had failed to land and was circling around to make another attempt.
“We are proceeding direct, sir — we have lost engine,” a pilot said.
“Confirm your attempt on belly,” the air traffic controller said, offering a runway.
“Sir — mayday, mayday, mayday, mayday Pakistan 8303,” the pilot said before the transmission ended.
Imran Khan, the country’s prime minister, said he was “shocked and saddened by the PIA crash” and has ordered an inquiry into the crash.
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. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) May 22, 2020
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.
Pakistan had resumed domestic flights earlier this week ahead of the Eid-al Fitr holiday marking the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Pakistan, a nation of over 220 million, has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The South Asian country surpassed 50,000 cases mark on Friday, with just over a thousand deaths and 15,000 recoveries.