A domestic Pakistan International Airlines flight with at least 98 people on board crashed Friday shortly after 2 p.m. local time near its destination in the southern port city of Karachi, Abdul Sattar Kokhar, a spokesman for the country’s civil aviation authority, told the Associated Press.
Pakistan’s civil aviation authority said the plane carried 91 passengers and a crew of seven. Earlier, the departure airport in the northeastern city of Lahore had said more than 100 were on board. Kokhar said the discrepancy was due to confusion in the chaotic aftermath of the crash.
Information on survivors evolved as details emerged about the crash. Police in protective masks struggled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so ambulances and firetrucks could move through the crash site. As darkness settled over the crash site, flood lights illuminated the wreckage, where crews were still recovering bodies. A portable morgue was set up.
At least 57 bodies were recovered, health department officials said, and Malik said finding all the dead could take two to three days. Two deceased passengers have already been identified by their DNA and returned to family members, said Meeran Yousaf, a Health Department spokesman for Sindh Province.
At least two people aboard survived, according to the Sindh provincial health department, revising earlier reports. And three additional people on the ground were injured.
One of the survivors, province officials said, was Zafar Masud, the head of the Bank of Punjab, whom local TV stations said was seen being carried on a stretcher.
Airline chairman Arshad Malik confirmed that Masud survived.
The aircraft crashed into a crowded neighborhood on the edge of the airport, and Mayor Wasim Akhtar said at least five or six houses were destroyed.
The residential area on the edge of the airport, known as Model Colony, is poor and heavily congested.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked & saddened” by the crash in a statement posted to Twitter Friday.
“Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased,” the statement continued.
Malik said there will be an investigation into the crash, adding that the aircraft was in good working order.
Major General Babar Iftikhar, the chief media officer for Pakistan’s Armed Forces, said in a tweet that the the army’s chief of staff had volunteered its full assistance to the civil administration’s rescue efforts.
In an earlier tweet, the Pakistan Armed Forces shared that Army Aviation had dispatched helicopters to assess damage and assist with ongoing rescue efforts.
Witnesses said the Airbus A320 appeared to attempt to land two or three times before crashing in a residential area near Jinnah International Airport, also known as Karachi Airport.
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.
A resident of the area, Abdul Rahman, said he saw the aircraft circle at least three times, appearing to try to land at the airport before it crashed into several houses.
USA TODAY has reached out to Pakistan International Airlines and to the Aviation Division of the Government of Pakistan for comment on the crash.
Airbus said the plane had logged 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flights as of Friday. The plane had two CFM56-5B4 engines.
Airbus said it would provide technical assistance to investigators in France and Pakistan, as well as the airline and engine manufacturers.
“We at Airbus are deeply saddened by the tragic news of flight #PK8303,” tweeted Executive Director Guillaume Faury. “My thoughts and those of my Airbus colleagues, go to the families and loved ones affected. In aviation, we all work hard to prevent this. Airbus will provide full assistance to the investigating authorities.”
We at Airbus are deeply saddened by the tragic news of flight #PK8303. My thoughts and those of my Airbus colleagues, go to the families and loved ones affected. In aviation, we all work hard to prevent this. Airbus will provide full assistance to the investigating authorities.
— Guillaume Faury (@GuillaumeFaury) May 22, 2020
Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on Nov. 1, 2019. PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate on April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted on the plane and that “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.
Pakistan resumed domestic flights earlier this week ahead of the Eid-al Fitr holiday marking the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. Pakistan had been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March. The virus has has infected more than 50,000 people and killed 1,067 people there as of Friday morning, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Karachi is the capital of southern Sindh Province, the epicenter of COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan. The area is home to nearly 20,000 of the country’s coronavirus cases.
Science Minister Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry said this year has been a “catastrophe – just survival is so difficult,” first with the pandemic and now the tragedy of the plane crash.
Most of the passengers were heading home to celebrate Eid-al Fitr, he said.
“What is most unfortunate and sad is whole families have died – whole families who were travelling together for the Eid holiday,” he said in a telephone interview from the capital of Islamabad.