–Eyewitnesses say plane appeared to attempt to land two or three times before crashing near Model Colony near airport
–PM vows probe as CAA officials cite ‘technical problems’ as reason behind the crash
—BoP President Zafar Masud among two confirmed survivors
KARACHI: A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane, with at least 99 people on board, crashed near Karachi’s Model Colony in airport area on Friday, minutes before landing, killing over 66 people and destroying at least 15 houses.
Two people, including Bank of Punjab President (BoP) Zafar Masud, survived the crash, whereas Urban Unit chief Khalid Sherdil is in critical condition.
PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez said that the A320 Airbus was carrying 91 passengers and 8 crew members from Lahore to Karachi on PK 8303.
“He [pilot] 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,” he added.
Eyewitnesses said the Airbus A320 appeared to attempt to land two or three times before crashing in a residential area near the airport.
“The aeroplane first hit a mobile tower and crashed over houses,” witness Shakeel Ahmed said near the site, just a few kilometres short of the airport, according to Reuters.
After the crash, footage showed plumes of smoke rising from the site of the crash within the congested residential area. Ambulances and rescue officials arrived at the scene to help residents. Videos from the crash site showed bodies buried underneath rubble and residents gathering in streets littered with debris while Rangers and Sindh police carried out rescue operations.
Talking to a foreign media outlet, one senior civil aviation official said it appeared the plane was unable to open its wheels due to a technical fault prior to landing, but it was too early to determine the cause.
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, reported AP. “We are proceeding direct, sir — we have lost engine,” a pilot can be heard saying. “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.
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 seat belts.
For his part, Pakistan Airlines Pilots’ Association spokesperson Tariq Yahya, while speaking on Geo News, said that the plane seemed to be gliding at the end. “Communications show that the plane did not have power at the end and was gliding and couldn’t make it to the runway,” said Yahya, adding that it didn’t have power when it was asked to climb to 3,000 feet.
He added, however, that these were “only assumptions and we will not know the exact cause until we find the blackbox.”
It was also learned that there has been no permanent director general for the Civil Aviation Authority for the last two years.
According to sources, the retired army personnel are a major part of the CAA, who have a conflict of interest with the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) being beneficiaries.
Pakistan’s armed forces also put out a statement saying that their teams were on the spot. “Army Quick Reaction Force & Pakistan Rangers Sindh troops reached the incident site for relief and rescue efforts alongside civil administration,” Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major General Babar Iftikhar tweeted.
Sindh information minister Nasir Hussain Shah said that rescue efforts were still under way. He added that the administration had provided generators to help officials continue rescue efforts at night.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and saddened by the PIA crash”.
“Am in touch with PIA CEO Arshad Malik, who has left for Karachi, and with the rescue and relief teams on ground as this is the priority right now. Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers and condolences go to families of the deceased,” he said.
In Pakistan’s most recent deadly crash, 47 people died when a PIA jet smashed into a mountainside in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in 2016. The country’s worst plane disaster came in 2010 when an AirBlue flight crashed killing 152 people near Islamabad.
“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,” tweeted Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”