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May 23, 2020

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday -- Then the plane goes down: 97 perish in PIA plane crash

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May 23, 2020

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday -- Then the plane goes down: 96 perish in PIA plane crash

KARACHI: At least 85 passengers, including crew members, lost their lives when a state-run Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Airbus A320 jet (flight PK-8303) with 91 passengers and a crew of eight flying from the airport in Lahore crashed in the densely-populated Model Colony residential area in Karachi. The death toll was expected to rise as emergency services remained busy in searching for the passengers of the plane crash. As the plane crashed on a congested lane of the residential area, rescuers were facing massive difficulties in the search and rescue operation, which is expected to continue for three days, with focus on finding more bodies.

The PIA flight PK-8303 was close to landing when it came down among the houses, sparking an explosion and killing several people on the ground. Plumes of smoke were sent into the air as rescue workers and residents searched the debris for survivors and firefighters tried to extinguish the flames. Charred bodies were loaded into ambulances and transported to different hospitals.

“The plane was totally destroyed. Even it severely damaged the houses,” said one of the rescuers. “We found some bodies who were still wearing seatbelts.”

President, Prime Minister, Chief of the Army Staff, PPP chairman and others have condoled with the affected families on the tragic incident.

Muhammad Zubair, the young mechanical engineer who survived the tragic accident, said when the aircraft crashed, he thought it was landing on the runway but then there was a loud bang and darkness but he remained conscious. “People were screaming around me when the plane crashed. I opened my seatbelt and rushed towards safety. What I saw was fire everywhere but I jumped to the ground and then became unconscious," he told newsmen at the Civil Hospital’s burns center. As there were reports that the plane had landing gear problem and its engines had also stopped working, the survivor Zubair said that initially, the pilot attempted to land the plane on the runway but he was unable to do so and then he again took a round for another attempt when the plane suddenly came down on houses.

The tragic incident took place shortly after the plane lost contact with the air traffic control just after 2:20pm when the pilot told the ATC that the plane faced “technical difficulties” and then lost contact with the ground. Minutes after the last contact with the air traffic control, the plane crashed in the densely populated residential area at 2:25pm, damaging a number of houses and vehicles.

After the news about the plane crash in the residential area close to the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, broke, rescuers from different welfare organisations, firefighters, military, Rangers, police, Civil Aviation Authority, firefighters and representatives from the government and political parties reached the crash site.

As per health department, 66 bodies were brought to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, 31 were at the Civil Hospital, Karachi, while two survivors including Bank of Punjab president Zafar Masud were taken to different hospitals. Seventeen bodies had been identified so far.

A video circulated in the media showed that the plane with no noise was seen crashing in the residential area. “I was on my way to airport to receive my old friend, Dilshad Ahmed when I saw the plane with no noise at a low height. I immediately took my cell phone and started filming the scene but it crashed. As I saw the PIA logo on the plane, I doubted that it was the same plane Ahmed was coming in. I immediately tried to call him but his phone was dead,” an eye-witness Nabil Ahmed told The News. “Then we went to the airport and found his name on the passengers list and then we went to the Jinnah Hospital for his body.” Dilshad was a branch manager in the local cellular phone company and his posting was in Lahore from where he was coming to Karachi on holidays to celebrate Eid with his family and relatives. He has left behind a widow and two minor kids, including an eight-month-old daughter and two-year-old son. Dilshad was among the 12 victims of the plane crash whose bodies have so far been identified.

A voice recording also circulated in the social media showing a Mayday call made by the pilot. In a last-minute distress call, the pilot of the crashed passenger plane said the aircraft had engine problems. “We have lost two engines. Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. It is very serious," the pilot can be heard saying, in audio circulated in the media.

Spokesperson for the provincial health department confirmed 76 deaths in the plane crash and added that 12 bodies had so far been identified while at least two people onboard survived and were pulled from the wreckage and were taken to hospitals. The survivors included Bank of Punjab president Zafar Masud and Zubair Gulzar.

According to provincial secretary health Zahid Abbasi, three survivors have so far been brought to the Burns Ward of the CHK and they received 20 to 59 per cent burn injuries. He added that emergency had also been declared at all the hospitals, including the National Institute of Child while emergency arrangements were being made at the Burns Ward.

Though so far the rescuers have recovered 76 bodies but they were unable to identify them because the bodies were extremely burnt. Half a dozen residents of the area were also injured due to the plane crash and were taken to different hospitals.

Former correspondent of The News Ansar Naqvi, who was now working with a Lahore based news channel, Model Zara Abid and five family members of Yahya Polani were reportedly among the prominent unfortunate passengers of the plane. Sajjad Gul was the pilot.

Chief Executive Officer PIA Air Marshal (retd) Arshad Malik said the Safety Investigation Board will hold a thorough inquiry into the tragic incident of crash in Karachi. Addressing a news conference in Karachi, he said the cause of the incident will be ascertained after taking all factors into account for the investigation. He said the crashed plane was technically fit for flying and there was no obvious reason of accident.

He said a plane is given clearance only after all technical checks are made. The PIA CEO said landing of the plane is done after getting clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority. He said the Airbus that crashed was totally fit and safe for flying. He said PIA pilots are some of the best in the world and cabin crew was also qualified as well as inspection of the plane was regularly done. Air Marshal Arshad Malik said the rescue operation is in full swing despite night time and technical difficulties of operating in residential area. He said PIA has vacated its hotels in Karachi to house the relatives of the deceased.

A notification issued by Sheikh Noor Muhammad, Deputy Secretary CAA, said the federal government has constituted an investigation team with the following composition, to investigate the tragic accident of flight No. PK8303 operating from Lahore to Karachi that met with an ill-fated accident. Air Commodore Muhammad Usman Ghani, President Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board (AAIB), is the president of the committee while Wing Commander Malik Muhammad Imran, Additional Director Technical Invesitgation AAIB, Group Captain Touqeer, Operations Investigator, Pakistan Air Force Safety Board, Kamra, and Nasir Majeed, Joint Director, ATC Operations, AAIB, are the members of the committee. The investigation team shall exercise powers conferred by Section 3 and 4, Rules 272 to 275 of Civil Aviation Rules, 1994 and furnish its report to this division within the shortest-possible time. However, a preliminary statement shall be issued within one month from the date of the incident,

Director General Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, after aerial surveillance to monitor the situation also visited the plane crash site. On the directions of the DG Rangers, Rangers personnel also participated in the search and rescue operation.