Dozens killed in plane crash near Pak­istan air­port

The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS - ADIL JAWAD

Pi­lot of flight with 98 on board was heard trans­mit­ting may­day to tower shortly be­fore jet plowed into res­i­den­tial area

A jet­liner car­ry­ing 98 peo­ple crashed Fri­day in a crowded neigh­bour­hood near the air­port in Pak­istan’s port city of Karachi af­ter an ap­par­ent en­gine fail­ure dur­ing land­ing. Of­fi­cials said there were two sur­vivors from the plane, but also found at least 57 bod­ies in the wreck­age.

It was un­known how many peo­ple on the ground were hurt as the Pak­istan In­ter­na­tional Air­lines (PIA) jet, an Air­bus A320, plowed into an al­ley and de­stroyed at least five houses.

The pi­lot was heard trans­mit­ting a may­day to the tower shortly be­fore the crash of Flight 8303, which was fly­ing from La­hore to Karachi and car­ry­ing many trav­el­ling for the Mus­lim hol­i­day of Eid al-Fitr.

Video on so­cial me­dia ap­peared to show the jet fly­ing low with flames shoot­ing from one of its en­gines.

The plane went down about 2:39 p.m. lo­cal time north­east of Jin­nah In­ter­na­tional Air­port in the poor and con­gested res­i­den­tial area known as Model Colony be­tween houses that were smashed by its wings. Po­lice in pro­tec­tive masks strug­gled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so am­bu­lances and fire trucks could reach the crash site.

As dark­ness fell, crews worked un­der flood­lights, and a por­ta­ble morgue was set up. The Sindh pro­vin­cial health depart­ment said it had re­cov­ered 57 bod­ies, while PIA chair­man Ar­shad Ma­lik said find­ing all the dead could take two to three days.

Pak­istan’s Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity said the plane had 91 pas­sen­gers and a crew of seven. The A320 can carry up to 180 pas­sen­gers, de­pend­ing on how its cabin is con­fig­ured.

At least two peo­ple aboard sur­vived, ac­cord­ing to the health depart­ment, re­vis­ing an ear­lier state­ment that three were alive.

Lo­cal TV sta­tions showed video of a man on a stretcher they iden­ti­fied as Za­far Ma­sood, the head of the Bank of Pun­jab. Mr. Ma­lik later con­firmed that Mr. Ma­sood sur­vived the crash.

The Sindh pro­vin­cial govern­ment press depart­ment later dis­trib­uted a photo de­pict­ing a sec­ond sur­vivor iden­ti­fied as Mo­ham­mad Zubair, re­cov­er­ing in a Karachi hospi­tal.

At least three peo­ple on the ground were in­jured.

Mr. Ma­lik an­nounced an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the crash, adding that the air­craft was in good work­ing or­der.

Pak­istan had re­sumed do­mes­tic flights ear­lier this week ahead of Eid-al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ra­madan. Pak­istan has been in a coun­try­wide lock­down since mid-March be­cause of the novel coron­avirus, and the air­line has been us­ing so­cial-dis­tanc­ing guide­lines on its flights by leav­ing ev­ery other seat va­cant.

South­ern Sindh prov­ince, of which Karachi is the cap­i­tal, is the epi­cen­tre of the virus in­fec­tions in Pak­istan. The prov­ince has nearly 20,000 of the coun­try’s more than 50,000 cases. 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 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.

In one of the ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions, at least one ex­change from the flight sounded like a warn­ing alarm was sound­ing in the cock­pit.

A res­i­dent, Ab­dul Rah­man, said he saw the jet cir­cle at least three times, ap­pear­ing to try to land be­fore it crashed.

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

Sci­ence Min­is­ter Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry said this year has been a “catas­tro­phe – just sur­vival is so dif­fi­cult,” with the pan­demic and now the tragedy of the plane crash.

Most of the pas­sen­gers were head­ing home to cel­e­brate Eid-al Fitr, he said.

“What is most un­for­tu­nate and sad is whole fam­i­lies have died, whole fam­i­lies who were trav­el­ling to­gether for the Eid hol­i­day,” he said in a tele­phone in­ter­view in the cap­i­tal of Is­lam­abad.

The flight from the north­east­ern city of La­hore typ­i­cally lasts about an hour and a half.

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

Own­er­ship records for the Air­bus A320 showed China Eastern Air­lines flew the plane from 2004 un­til 2014. The plane then en­tered PIA’s fleet, leased from GE Cap­i­tal Avi­a­tion Ser­vices.

Perry Bradley, a spokesman for GE, said the firm was “aware of re­ports of the ac­ci­dent and is closely mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion.”

Air­bus said the plane had logged 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flights as of Fri­day. The plane had two CFM56-5B4 en­gines.

Air­bus said it would pro­vide tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance to in­ves­ti­ga­tors in France and Pak­istan, as well as the air­line and en­gine man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“We at Air­bus are deeply sad­dened by the tragic news of flight #PK8303,” ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Guil­laume Faury tweeted. “My thoughts and those of my Air­bus col­leagues, go to the fam­i­lies and loved ones af­fected. In avi­a­tion, we all work hard to pre­vent this. Air­bus will pro­vide full as­sis­tance to the in­ves­ti­gat­ing au­thor­i­ties.”

Air­wor­thi­ness doc­u­ments showed the plane last re­ceived a govern­ment check on Nov. 1, 2019. PIA’s chief en­gi­neer signed a sep­a­rate cer­tifi­cate April 28 say­ing all main­te­nance had been con­ducted.

AP

Vol­un­teers look for sur­vivors of a Pak­istan In­ter­na­tional Air­lines Air­bus A320 car­ry­ing 98 peo­ple that crashed in the port city of Karachi on Fri­day. PIA’s chair­man said find­ing all the dead could take two to three days.

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