There are fears of mass casualties after a passenger aircraft carrying 98 people crashed into a residential area in the Pakistani city of Karachi.
The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) jet, carrying 91 passengers and seven crew members, was on its final approach to Karachi airport when it went down in a residential area in the Model Colony neighbourhood and disappeared from radar. There were reports of multiple casualties on the ground.
Meeran Yousuf, the media coordinator for the Sindh health minister, told the Guardian at least three people on the plane had survived: the Bank of Punjab president, Zafar Masud, who is “out of danger” in hospital, and another two passengers, Mohammed Zubair and Tahira Mahmoud.
“So far we have a total of 31 dead bodies but we were only able to identify three of them because the rest were extremely burned,” said Yousuf. “The plane crash was in a residential area so it is proving difficult to get the bodies out and there were also residents who were injured as well. We’ve had seven residents from the area brought into the hospital, of which six are in severe condition in the burns unit.”
She added: “The rescue operation is still continuing, with a focus on finding more bodies.”
“Saying anything right now would be premature,” said Abdullah Hafeez, a PIA spokesman. “Our crew is trained to handle emergency landings. All my prayers are with the families. We will continue to provide information in a transparent manner.”
The pilot reportedly called in describing a technical fault minutes before the plane, an Airbus A320, crashed.
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 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.
In a statement, the PIA chief executive, Arshad Malik, said he was visiting the site of the crash and would further investigate the technical issue reported by the pilot.
Flight PK8303 was on a domestic journey from Lahore and was minutes from Jinnah international airport when it crashed at about 2.45pm local time (1045 BST). Video footage shows billowing black smoke and people running screaming from the crash site.
Saad Edhi, spokesperson of the Edhi Foundation who were helping in the rescue effort, said they had moved 35 bodies from the site of the crash to different hospitals.
The plane fell in a populated residential area and at least five houses caught fire. A schoolteacher working nearby said she had heard a “huge crash – it felt like doomsday. I saw smoke rising from the next street.”
Asad Ishaq, who lives a few streets away from where the plane crashed, told the Guardian there was “complete panic” in the area.
“The entire area has been sealed off by the army as they have stepped in for the rescue mission,” said Ishaq. “They are not allowing anyone to go near the site and there is complete panic here.”
The Sindh governor, Imran Ismail, said: “The concern now is of casualties of people in the area. Rangers and rescue services have been sent. We are trying to save as many lives as possible.”
The 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.”
The crash comes days after domestic commercial flights resumed, following a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.
On Friday, many in Pakistan were travelling back to their families in cities and villages across the country to celebrate the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.