Survivor of Pakistan plane crash recounts horror

Twenty-four-year-old Mohammad Zubair on Saturday recounted how he heard “children crying” as he tried to climb through the debris of the crashed Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) jetliner.

Zubair is one of only two victims to have survived Friday’s fatal crash with the only other survivor being Zafar Masood, a bank executive of the Bank of Punjab. 

When PK8303, an Airbus A320 from Lahore to Karachi, began to shake violently, Zubair said he thought it was just turbulence. The pilot then announced on the intercom that the landing could be “troublesome.” 

“Suddenly the plane jerked violently, once and then again,” he said. Moments later, as it approached the international airport, the plane crashed into an overcrowded residential neighborhood of Karachi known as Model Colony.

“I saw so much smoke and fire. I heard people crying, children crying,” Zubair said. The survivor managed to crawl his way out of the rubble and smoke and was eventually rushed to a hospital. He had suffered burns but was in a stable condition.

  • People stand next to the debris of a plane

    Pakistan: Plane crashes into Karachi neighborhood

    Crash moments before landing

    The plane, operated by Pakistan International Airline (PIA), crashed during the last minute of the flight as the plane was about to land at Jinnah International Airport. Witnesses said they saw the plane circling around the airport before coming down.

  • Ambulances and fire brigade vehicles gather at the site of a passenger plane crash

    Pakistan: Plane crashes into Karachi neighborhood

    A busy period

    The crash happened on the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid, when Pakistanis traditionally travel to visit relatives. At least two hospitals received bodies and were also treating about a dozen injured people, most hit by wreckage in houses on the ground.

  • Ambulances and fire brigade vehicles gather at the site of a passenger plane crash

    Pakistan: Plane crashes into Karachi neighborhood

    Search for ‘black boxes’

    A search immediately began for the two flight recorders, one for cockpit conversations and the other for data, which could provide vital clues. Aviation safety experts say air crashes typically have multiple causes, and that it is too early to understand them within the first hours or days.

  • Rescue workers gather at the site of a passenger plane crash

    Pakistan: Plane crashes into Karachi neighborhood

    Search for survivors

    Residents near the scene said their walls shook before a big explosion erupted as the aircraft slammed into their neighbourhood. 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.

  • Rescue workers gather at the site of a passenger plane crash

    Pakistan: Plane crashes into Karachi neighborhood

    Casualties to be confirmed

    The plane was carrying 98 people when it crashed in a corwded neighborhood. Officials said there were at least two survivors and it was unknown how many people on the ground were hurt, with at least five houses destroyed.

    Author: Rob Turner

Nearly a hundred dead

PIA said on Saturday that rescue workers had found the flight data recorder from the crash, which killed 97 of the 99 passengers and crew onboard. The airline said the black box would be handed to investigators.

A further three people on the ground were injured, according to local media reports.

Officials said they’d retrieved all bodies from the scene. But provincial Health Department spokeswoman Meeran Yousaf said only 19 of the bodies have been identified. 

DNA testing was being carried out at the University of Karachi to help name the rest of the victims while recovery efforts at the scene continued through Saturday. 

Read more: Pakistan: Man arrested for ‘honor’ killings of two cousins

Engine failure?

A PIA spokesperson said air traffic control lost contact with the aircraft just after 2:30 pm (0930 GMT) on Friday on the approach to Karachi’s international airport. 

Interior Minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah said the plane had developed a technical problem.

A recording of the transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control posted on the website indicated the pilot had failed to land and was circling to make another attempt.

“We are proceeding direct, sir, we have lost engine,” the pilot said. “Sir, mayday, mayday, mayday, mayday Pakistan 8303,”  the pilot said before the transmission ended.

Meanwhile, PIA Chief Executive Arshad Mahmood Malik told reporters later on Friday the plane was safe to fly. “Technically, operationally everything was in place,” he said.

Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan described pilot Sajjad Gul as the senior-most A320 pilot with extensive flight experience.

In a statement, Airbus said the plane had first entered service in 2004 and was acquired by PIA a decade later and had logged around 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flights as of Friday. 

Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on November 1 last year.

PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted. It noted: “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.

Read more: Pakistan: Imran Khan’s government is ‘muffling critical voices’

Independent probe launched

Malik said an independent inquiry would be carried out. Airbus said it would provide technical assistance to investigators in France and Pakistan, as well as the PIA and engine manufacturers.

“Airbus will provide full assistance to the investigating authorities,” tweeted Executive Director Guillaume Faury.

The Pakistan Airlines’ Pilots Association has demanded a thorough investigation into the crash and called for involving bodies including the International Civil Aviation Organisation and International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations in the probe, the Pakistani English daily Dawn reported.

Whole families aboard for Eid

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and saddened” by the crash.

“Prayers condolences go to families of the deceased,” he tweeted. 

The country had only earlier this week resumed domestic flights ahead of the Eid-al Fitr holidays, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Many of the passengers aboard the flight were whole families returning home together for the Eid holiday.

The crash comes as a double blow to Pakistan, with many devastated families already organizing funerals for victims of COVID-19. 

mvb/mm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

Subscribe to Corona Compact — DW’s newsletter tracking coronavirus in Asia 

Article source: