At least 97 people perished in the Friday crash of an Airbus A320 over a residential area in Karachi, the major city in southern Pakistan, according to a new report released on Saturday by local authorities who also reported of two survivors.
The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane crashed into a group of houses as it approached Karachi airport. The latest death toll from 97 dead and two survivors includes all occupants of the aircraft, said health services in Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital. It is not known whether the disaster also claimed lives on the ground.
The aircraft from Lahore was carrying 99 people (91 passengers and 8 crew members) said a PIA spokesman on Saturday, correcting a first count which reported only 98 occupants. Among the two miracles of the crash was Zafar Masud, president of the Bank of Punjab, one of Pakistan’s largest banks, said PIA president Arshad Malik.
Rescue operations ended at dawn on Saturday, authorities said. During the whole day of Friday, rescuers and residents had searched the rubble for bodies. An AFP journalist had seen several charred bodies loaded on board an ambulance.
Lee Flight PK8303 “lost contact with air traffic control at 2:37 pm” (5:37 am ET), said PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez.
Arshad Malik, CEO of the company, said the aircraft, an Airbus A320, was “on final approach” from Karachi airport when an incident occurred.
The aircraft, put into service in 2004, was under the colours of PIA only since 2014, according to an Airbus press release.
“The last time we heard from the pilot, he indicated that he had a technical problem,” said Malik in a video posted on Twitter. “He was told […] that two runways were ready for the landing, but he decided to go around. ”
According to Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah, the pilot said he had “lost an engine” and then made “a distress call”.
Stuck in the emergency exit
“I saw a passenger off the plane. He was alive. He talked. He asked me to save him, but his legs were trapped in the emergency exit, “said Raja Amjad, a witness who had previously seen a body” fall on his car “. He added that he heard “no screams” from other passengers while the plane caught fire.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and saddened” by the disaster, addressing his “prayers and condolences to the families and missing persons” on Twitter.
According to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the plane had on board “many people returning home for Eid” el-Fitr, the celebration of the end of Ramadan, the most important holiday for Muslims.
The accident 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.
US Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo said “Prayers for those who died or were injured and their families.” The United States “stands by the side of Pakistan during this difficult time,” he tweeted.
Frequent crashes of civil and military aircraft and helicopters have occurred in Pakistan over the years.
The last major air accident in the country dates back to December 2016. A PIA plane on an internal flight crashed in the mountainous north of the country, killing 47 people.
In 2010, an Airbus 321 from a private company flying from Karachi to Islamabad 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. 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 and delays have tarnished its reputation.
The company has been involved in many controversies, including the incarceration of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013. It also had problems obtaining European Union security certifications for its cargo flights.
Between March and November 2007, the entire PIA fleet except eight aircraft had been blacklisted by the European Union.