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May 23, 2020

They were just 10 seconds away from ground

Top Story

May 23, 2020

KARACHI: Passengers of Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) ill-fated PK-8303 were less than 10 seconds away from touching the land of Karachi and seeing their loved ones, when their plane fell on houses of the Jinnah Garden in Model Colony on Friday afternoon.

The plane crash wreaked havoc in Karachi’s Jinnah Garden in Model Colony. As the plane crashed in a densely-populated residential area, a large number of casualties are also feared to among the residents of the Jinnah Garden. One of the eye-witnesses said that the plane had already caught fire before falling down at the residential buildings.

Soon after the plane crash, black smoke clouds engulfed the area and flames could be seen from far away. Roofs and front portion of around six to seven houses of 200 to 250-square yards were severely damaged. More than a dozen vehicles parked on the street and inside the houses were destroyed. As the streets leading to the site of the incident were quite narrow and gated, it became immensely difficult for the rescue teams, particularly the fire brigade to timely reach the location.

The rescuers waited for a while for the smoke to subside to continue the rescue operation. The bodies recovered were charred beyond recognition. The Jinnah Garden is opposite to Malir Cantt’s Gate Number 2. Former president of Aircraft Technology Association, Najeebur Rehman lives just a few meters away from the incident site. Ninety-nine percent of the planes, he told The News, land from the side where the plane crashed, “and they are so close that we can even read their registration numbers.”

From the place where the plane crashed, he pointed out that it takes less than 10 seconds for a plane to land. While the plane was in the air, Rehman found its engine sound a bit unusual, while his mind was on the plane’s sound, there was the deafening sound of crash at some distance from his house and all he could see was flames and thick black smoke. “The electric wires had collapsed,” he said.

He went outside to rescue people but couldn’t reach the site as the smoke had engulfed the entire area. “When I tried to turn back towards my home, I couldn’t because the area was cordoned off,” he said adding that the rescue teams and fire tenders couldn’t reach on time. The fire tenders were so large that they weren’t able to turn into the streets. “They had to reverse and then forward their fire tenders four to five times, which wasted a lot of time,” he pointed out.

The exact street where the plane crashed is 15 to-20-feet wide, according to assistant zonal in-charge of Edhi, Ahmed Edhi. Talking to The News, he shared there were 15 to-20 bungalows in the street where the plane crashed. “It seemed like that there was an effort to land the out-of-control plane and it ended up crashing in that street,” he said adding that when the plane collided with several residential buildings, its parts tore off and fell randomly on the houses of the residential garden. Some of the houses are completely damaged. “Pillars of the houses were destroyed, while few houses had their front portion completely damaged,” he pointed out adding that the fire on the plane had also burnt the residents.

He explained that the crash seemed to have not happened at once and some of the passengers may have fallen off the plane on the roofs of the houses, when it collided with the residential buildings. “At a street, there was the engine of the plane and at some point its wings could be seen,” he said.

A senior rescue official of the PIA at the site also confirmed to The News that the plane didn’t just crash at one house or at a particular point. The plane wobbled and collided with the houses in the Jinnah Garden, which the official said had caused more damage. As for the chances of survivors, the official feared that due to the heat of fire, there are little chances for anyone to survive.

The information board at the Jinnah International Airport’s arrival lounge said that the PIA’s A-320 aircraft had landed. Newly-married Almeena Mustufa was coming back from Lahore for the first time after her marriage. All her brothers and cousins were at the airport to receive her.

All of a sudden there was some unrest at the arrival lounge and everyone rushed towards the TV screen. “The officials of the Civil Aviation Authority told us that there has been a plane crash,” said her cousin Ikram who was waiting for some information, just before iftaar on Friday, at the Airport Hotel where the PIA has established a help desk.

One help desk was created at the departure lounge, where the names of the passengers and their relatives were being collected. A bus was also arranged for the family members of the passengers to take them to the Airport Hotel, where arrangements were made for all the other family members in a big hall.

Everyone was quiet inside the hall. A small TV was placed at the front. “There are two survivors as of now,” Sindh’s health minister Azra Pechuho was heard saying on the TV and everyone in the hall glued their eyes on the TV, a few started praying on prayer beads rigorously. As the presser ended, there were tears in the eyes of most the family members.

“She was coming back alone after nine-months to celebrate Eid with us,” said Mustufa’s cousin who had come from Jafar-e-Tayyar Society in Malir. After Eid, she was to go to the UK with her husband. Her old father could hardly swallow a date at iftaar as he continued to sob.

With visible signs of anxiety, Irshad Hameed’s two sisters and a nephew entered the hall after iftaar. “Why do they [PIA] run their planes, when everyone knows that they end up crashing?” yelled one of the sisters. Hameed was one of the passengers of the plane.

His nephew told The News that they had come from the Mehmoodabad area after they saw the news of the plane crash on TV. Hameed, who used to work in a mobile company in Lahore, had already sent his wife and two kids to Karachi earlier. “Just after Eid, his [Hameed’s] brother is getting married,” said his nephew.