Pakistan plane with 98 on board crashes near Karachi

Fire brigade staff try to put out fire caused by plane crash in Karachi, Pakistan, Friday, May 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

Fire brigade staff try to put out fire caused by plane crash in Karachi, Pakistan, Friday, May 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

A passenger plane with 98 people on board crashed in a crowded neighborhood on the edge of the international airport near Pakistan’s port city of Karachi on Friday after what appeared to be an engine failure during landing.

Mayor Wasim Akhtar said at least five or six houses were destroyed in the crash of the domestic flight operated by Pakistan International Airlines.

He said all those on board died, but two civil aviation officials later said that at least two people survived the crash. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

Local TV stations reported that three people sitting in the front row of the aircraft survived and aired footage of a man on a stretcher they identified as Zafar Masood, the head of the Bank of Punjab. They reported that at least 11 bodies were recovered from the crash site and six people were injured. It was not immediately clear if the casualties were passengers.

The airport in the northeastern city of Lahore, where the flight originated, initially said there were 107 people on board. The civil aviation authority later said the plane carried 91 passengers and seven crew members. Spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the discrepancy was due to confusion in the chaotic aftermath of the crash.

Police wearing protective masks struggled to clear away crowds to allow a firetruck and an ambulance to move through the narrow streets toward the crash site, the air filled with dust and smoke. Police and soldiers cordoned off the area.

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

“We are proceeding direct, sir — we have lost engine,” a pilot said.

“Confirm your attempt on belly,” the air traffic controller said, offering a runway.

“Sir – mayday, mayday, mayday, mayday Pakistan 8303,” the pilot said before the transmission ended.

Pakistan had resumed domestic flights earlier this week ahead of the Eid-al Fitr holiday marking the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Witnesses said the Airbus A320 appeared to attempt to land two or three times before crashing in a residential area near Jinnah International Airport. The residential area on the edge of the airport, known as Model Colony, is poor and heavily congested.

A resident of the area, Abdul Rahman, said he saw the aircraft circle at least three times, appearing to try to land before it crashed into several houses.

Video circulated on social media appeared to show the aircraft flying low over a residential area with flames shooting from one of its engines.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash… Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”

Airbus did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the crash. The flight from the northeastern city of Lahore typically lasts about an hour and a half.

Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on Nov. 1, 2019. PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted. It said “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.

Ownership records for the Airbus A320 showed China Eastern Airlines flew the plane from 2004 until 2014. The plane then entered PIA’s fleet, leased from GE Capital Aviation Services.

Perry Bradley, a spokesman for GE, said the firm was “aware of reports of the accident and is closely monitoring the situation.”

Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Kathy Gannon and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, and Asim Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan, contributed reporting.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal