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Pakistani airliner crashes near Karachi with 98 on board

Firefighters in Karachi respond to the deadly crash of a passenger plane May 22. The aircraft was arriving from the eastern city of Lahore.
Firefighters pour water on the wreckage of an airliner that crashed Friday in a neighborhood in Karachi.
(Fareed Khan / Associated Press)

A jetliner carrying 98 people crashed Friday in a crowded neighborhood near the airport in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi after an apparent engine failure during landing. Officials said two survivors and at least 57 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage.

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

The pilot transmitted a mayday to the tower shortly before the crash of Flight 8303 from Lahore, which was carrying many traveling for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

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

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The plane came to rest about 2:39 p.m. in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony, wedged in an alley between houses smashed by its wings. Police in protective masks struggled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so that ambulances and firetrucks could get through.

As darkness settled over the crash site, floodlights illuminated the wreckage, where crews were still recovering bodies. A portable morgue was set up.

The Sindh provincial health department said it had recovered 57 bodies, while airline Chairman Arshad Malik said finding all the dead could take two to three days.

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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 survivor on a stretcher they identified as Zafar Masood, the head of the Bank of Punjab. Malik later confirmed that 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.

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At least three people on the ground were injured.

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 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 epicenter of the virus infections in Pakistan. The province has nearly 20,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 cases.

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The airport in the northeastern city of Lahore, where the flight originated, initially said there were 107 people on board, which the civil aviation authority later corrected to 91 passengers and seven crew members. Spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the discrepancy was due to confusion in the chaotic aftermath of the crash.

A transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control, posted on the website LiveATC.net, indicated that he had failed on one landing attempt and was making another pass when disaster struck.

“We are proceeding direct, sir — we have lost engine,” the pilot said.

“Confirm your attempt on belly,” the air traffic controller said, offering a runway.

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“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.

On the ground, 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.”

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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 traveling together for the Eid holiday,” he said in a telephone interview in the capital of Islamabad.

The flight from Lahore to Karachi typically takes an hour and a half.

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

Ownership records for the Airbus A320 showed that 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.

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Airbus said it would provide technical assistance to investigators as well as to the airline and engine manufacturer.

“We at Airbus are deeply saddened by the tragic news of flight #PK8303,” tweeted Executive Director Guillaume Faury. “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.”


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