A Pakistani airliner with a hundred people on board crashed Friday in a residential area of Karachi, the big city in the south of the country, after having suffered a technical problem. Public television footage showed thick black smoke escaping into the sky behind a seemingly recent house. Firefighters were trying to extinguish debris from buildings, while military helicopters patrolled over the area. “There were 91 passengers and 7 crew members” on board Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK8303, “which lost contact with air traffic control at 2:37 pm” (0937 GMT), said the PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez to local media.
Arshad Malik’s CEO said the aircraft, an Airbus A320 from Lahore, was “on final approach” from Karachi airport when an incident occurred. “The last time we heard from the pilot, he indicated that he had a technical problem,” he said in a video posted on Twitter. “He was told (…) that two runways were ready for landing, but he decided to go around. Why? The technical problem remains to be determined.”
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According to Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah, the pilot said he had “lost an engine” and then made “a distress call”. An AFP journalist saw charred bodies being taken to ambulances. Syed Murad Ali Shah, head of government in Sindh, the province of which Karachi is the capital, said a survivor of the crash. Seemin Jamali, a director of the Jinnah University Hospital in Karachi, said that eight corpses and 15 wounded had been transported to his services, all of them residents.
The Pakistani army announced on Twitter that it had sent a rapid intervention force, along with paramilitary elements, to the rescue site to participate in the rescue operations. Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and saddened” by the disaster, sending his “prayers and condolences to the families and missing persons” on Twitter. According to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the plane was on board “many people returning home for Eid” el-Kebir, the celebration of the end of Ramadan, the most important holiday for Muslims.
‘The walls were shaking’
“I was leaving the mosque when I saw the plane tilt to one side,” said Hassan, 14. “The engine noises were quite bizarre. The plane was so low that the walls (…) were shaking,” he added. The disaster comes just days after the country authorized the resumption of domestic commercial flights, suspended for more than a month to combat the spread of the new coronavirus. Very few international flights had been maintained.
Frequent civil and military aircraft and helicopter crashes have occurred in Pakistan over the years. The last major air accident in the country dates back to December 2016, when a PIA airliner on a domestic flight crashed in the mountainous north of the country, killing 47 people.
The deadliest crash in recent years dates back to 2010. An Airbus 321 from the private company Airblue, flying from Karachi to Islamabad, had crashed in the hills shortly before landing in the capital, killing 152 people on board. The deadliest accident involving PIA to date has occurred in 1992, when one of its A300s descended prematurely to the airport in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu and crashed on a hill, killing 167 people.
PIA was one of the world’s major airlines until the 1970s. But years of financial loss, mismanagement, cancellations and delays have tarnished its reputation. The national company has been involved in many controversies, including the imprisonment of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013. It also had problems obtaining European Union safety certifications for its cargo flights. Between March and November 2007, the entire PIA fleet except eight aircraft had been placed on the EU blacklist.