KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-8303 on Friday crashed in a residential area near Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport a few moments before landing.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority, the flight from Lahore was about to land in Karachi when it crashed in the Jinnah Garden area near Model Colony in Malir.
Ninety-nine people were aboard the plane, including 85 passengers, of which two passengers have miraculously survived the incident.
According to the Sindh health department, 92 people have so far known to have died as a result of the crash. It is not yet known how many of the deceased were passengers and how many were residents of the area where the crash took place.
The Karachi commissioner has shared contact information for “all bereaved families of PIA tragedy”. It includes his own landline number as well as those of PIA and CAA.
In addition, a point of collection for DNA tests has been set up at the Karachi University’s Forensic DNA Laboratory. Family members of the passengers are requested to visit “for samples that would be required for cross match” when identifying the deceased. Contact numbers for information have also been shared.
Bank of Punjab (BOP) chief executive Zafar Masud has miraculously survived the incident and is one of two surviving passengers confirmed so far.
Masud has been taken to the hospital, where his brother is with him. He is said to be stable. He was visited by Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah.
Another passenger was identified as Mohammad Zubair, who was paid a visit by Sindh education minister Saeed Ghani.
Survior recalls horrific incident
Zubair appeared in Shahzeb Khanzada’s show on Geo News, and shared details of the horrific account. He said he is a mechanical engineer and after working on a project in Gujranwala, was on his way home for Eid.
He said that his limbs have burn wounds but he is otherwise alright.
Recalling the plane’s sudden descent, he said that the pilot announced the landing, after which two sudden jerks were felt by passengers.
He said the plane hit the runway momentarily before it was flown upwards. “People began to pray fervently.”
Zubair said that the pilot was “searching for empty space” to land the plane but was unable to find any, and the next thing he knew was that the aircraft had crashed. He saw the area “engulfed in flames” and could “hear screams from adults and children alike”.
He said that he unbuckled his seatbelt and saw a light in the distance. He then leapt 10 feet down from the plane.
“They took me to Jinnah hospital and then I was brought to Civil hospital, where I currently am,” said Zubair.
When asked how much time had passed between the two descent attempts, the survivor put the estimate between 10 and 15 minutes. He said that when the second attempt to land was being made, the plane crashed two to three minutes after the landing announcement.
Zubair said that the passengers had no inkling they would crash. “The way things were handled, it seemed we would just make a routine landing.”
Sindh health department spokesperson Meeran Yousuf told Geo.tv that the two survivors are being treated at Civil Hospital and Darul Sehat Hospital.
She said that the deceased are being identified through DNA extraction and that so far, 19 bodies had been identified.
Of the deceased, 60 were taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) and 32 to Civil Hospital. Five bodies are still unaccounted for.
Earlier, in a conversation with Geo News, JPMC Executive Director Seemin Jamali said that five bodies were identified and handed over to their heirs. Among them, was captain Sajjad Gul, who was piloting the ill-fated plane.
According to JPMC officials, one of the wounded brought to the hospital is badly burned and has been shifted to the burns ward.
The injured are said to be residents of the area where the crash took place.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has promised an “immediate inquiry” into the matter and said that he is in touch with PIA chief executive Arshad Malik. He said rescue and relief efforts are the “priority right now”.
Following the premier’s remarks, Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan ordered an immediate inquiry into the plane crash.
According to APP, the minister ordered the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board to carry out investigations.
An investigation team headed by Air Commodore Usman Ghani has been constituted and which will “furnish its report” to the Aviation Division “within the shortest possible time”, said a notification issued by the Aviation Division later in the day.
“A preliminary statement will be issued within one month,” added the notification.
According to CAA, the aviation minister has also directed that five of each of the deceased’s heirs “be provided air tickers to reach Karachi”.
Furthermore, insurance compensation will be paid to the next of kin “on most immediate basis”.
The airport hotel shall be available as accommodation for the family members.
The aviation minister will also visit Karachi tomorrow and hold “detailed” meetings with the CAA and PIA management. He will also meet the families of the passengers and the residents whose houses were damaged.
Meanwhile, Governor Sindh Imran Ismail said that he has called the PIA chairman and instructed him “to provide shelters to people” whose houses were damaged.
“PIA will take full responsibility and provide hotel immediately to them,” he said.
Ismail said that the premier has asked PIA “to take care of affectees without any delay”.
Mayday distress signal sounded
The pilot sent a Mayday and told controllers the aircraft had lost power from both its engines on its second attempt to land, according to a recording posted on monitoring website liveatc.net.
After the aircraft reportedly called off an earlier attempt to land and went around for a second attempt, a controller radioed the pilot of flight 8303 that he appeared to be turning left, suggesting he was off-course.
The pilot replied, “We are returning back, sir, we have lost engines,” and the controller cleared the plane to land on either of Karachi airport’s two West-Southwest-facing runways.
Twelve seconds later the pilot called “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” and was again cleared to use either runway. There was no further communication from the aircraft, reported to be an Airbus A320, according to the audio from liveatc.net, a respected source for in-flight recordings.
PIA chief executive Air Marshal Arshad Malik confirmed that the pilot, in his last words, had said that there was a technical fault with the aircraft. “The pilot was told that both runways were ready for him to land. However, the pilot decided to do a go-around. Why did he do that, due to what technical reason, that we will find out,” he said, before hopping on a plane to Karachi.
‘Poor safety culture’
Tariq Yahya, a veteran pilot and spokesperson for Pakistan Airline Pilots Association, said that what actually caused the crash “will only be determined after the black boxes are opened”.
He said, however, that according to the communication obtained from the ATC (air traffic control), it “seems that the airplane lost power”.
“The airplane was gliding as it approached the runway and it couldn’t make it to the runway unfortunately […] when the pilot was asked to ascend to 3,000 feet, he said he is trying to maintain altitude but is unable to.”
He said these are assumptions only at this stage. When asked what options a pilot has when faced with such a situation, he said the guide book says it calls for an emergency “forced landing”.
He said the nearest location for such a landing was the Jinnah airport. “But unfortunately he did not have the altitude and crashed very short of the runway.”
Yahya said pilots are handed a “technical log book” which is filled out by engineers and is a declaration that the plane is safe to fly. The pilot then independently reviews all the various flight functions on board the plane.
The spokesperson also remarked that there is a “very poor safety culture in place when it comes to the civil aviation authority as well as the PIA safety department” — an issue raised by PALPA as well, and which has only deteriorated over time.
He said that construction of tall buildings near an airport is a violation of CAA rules.
PIA chief says plane was ‘technically sound’
For his part, the PIA chief said that the aircraft was “technically sound”.
Arshad Malik said the aviation ministry would oversee an inquiry into the incident and that his team stood with the government of Pakistan, the armed forces, and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
“We will need 2-3 days to complete the operation,” Malik said. “The airplane was technically sound.”
“The aviation ministry will oversee an inquiry into the incident. We want the inquiry report to be completed as soon as possible but we cannot say when. We do not wish to interfere with the inquiry in any way.”
Troops from the Pakistan Army’s Quick Reaction Force and Pakistan Rangers Sindh arrived at the crash site shortly after to assist the civil administration in relief and rescue efforts.
Additionally, an Army Urban Search and Rescue Team was dispatched via a C-130 military plane from Rawalpindi.
According to ISPR, 10 army fire tenders took part in the rescue efforts as well as multiple military ambulances.
Several houses were damaged in the area where the plane crashed. According to Geo News, families located at the crash site are being vacated from the area.
Ambulances were faced with difficulty as the streets were quite narrow and the huge presence of people made it difficult for relief operations to continue. Rescue officials requested spotlights to seamlessly continue work at night.
Rescue sources said that several people have been helped out from under the rubble and shifted to a hospital for medical treatment. “Due to the rush, we are encountering difficulties in carrying out relief operations,” said SSP Malir. “People should avoid gathering at the accident site,” he added.
Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa extended condolences over the loss of lives and directed the provision of full assistance to the civil administration in rescue and relief efforts.
The PIA released a passenger manifest according to which 51 men, 31 women and nine children were aboard the PK-8303 flight.