In yet another tragic chapter of Pakistan’s aviation history, Karachi-bound flight PK8303 of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) from Lahore on Friday crashed in a residential area of the port city a bit over a minute away from the airport, and two days before Eid.
A majority among the 91 passengers of the ill-fated flight — also carrying seven crew members — was of those who were heading back home to celebrate Eid in Karachi, as the government lifted the ban imposed on domestic air travel to curb the spread of COVID-19.
While a rescue operation is underway and conflicting reports about the number of survivors and fatalities pour in, here’s everything we know so far.
THE FLIGHT AND THE CRASH:
The aircraft, which FlightRadar24.com identified as a 15-year-old Airbus A320, took off from the eastern city of Lahore for Karachi.
“The last we heard from the pilot was that he has some technical problem,” the national carrier’s spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan said in a video statement. “He was told from the final approach that both the runways were ready where he can land, but the pilot decided that he wanted to do a go-round.”
Speaking to a foreign media outlet, one senior civil aviation official said it appeared the plane was unable to open its wheels due to a technical fault prior to landing, but it is too early to determine the cause.
“The plane first hit a mobile tower and then crashed over houses,” a witness Shakeel Ahmed said near the site, just a few kilometres short of the airport — in the Jinnah Garden area of Malir’s Model Colony.
A video, purportedly showing Fridays crash, is also doing rounds over mainstream and social media.
CAUSE OF THE CRASH:
While it still remains too early to determine the cause of the crash, an audio clip of the last conversation between the flight’s pilot and the control tower has been released.
The pilot sent a Mayday — emergency procedure word used internationally as a distress signal in voice procedure radio communications — and told controllers the aircraft had lost power from both its engines on its second attempt to land.
After the aircraft reportedly called off an earlier attempt to land and went around for a second attempt, a controller radioed the pilot that he appeared to be turning left, suggesting he was off-course.
The pilot replied, “We are returning back, sir, we have lost engines,” and the controller cleared the plane to land on either of Karachi airport’s two West-Southwest-facing runways.
Twelve seconds later the pilot called “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” and was again cleared to use either runway. There was no further communication from the aircraft.
PIA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Air Marshal Arshad Malik confirmed that the pilot, in his last words, had said that there was a technical fault with the aircraft. “The pilot was told that both runways were ready for him to land. However, the pilot decided to do a go-around. Why did he do that, due to what technical reason, that we will find out,” he said, before hopping on a plane to Karachi.
While experts say that what actually caused the crash “will only be determined after the black boxes are opened”, it has been learnt that there has been no permanent director general for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for the past two years.
POSSIBLE SURVIVORS AND FATALITIES?
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that Bank of Punjab (BoP) President and CEO Zafar Masud as well as Urban Unit CEO Khalid Sherdil were also on the ill-fated flight that crashed in Karachi, seats 1C and 1F, respectively.
According to reports, Masud was shifted to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Malir Cantt, where he is receiving treatment and is said to be out of danger. There was no word on Sherdil by the time this report was filed.
As per various unconfirmed reports, anywhere between 14 to 40 passengers have survived. Dozens of others, however, are feared dead, which also include locals who are said to be buried under debris of their houses, or lost their lives due to the fire that broke out following the crash.
A rescue operation is underway and the military has also rushed to the aid of civilian authorities.
Military’s assistance to speed up relief and rescue efforts in the densely populated area was announced by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
PRESIDENT, PM REACT TO CRASH:
As condolences pour in, President Dr Arif Alvi and Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan have offered their condolences to the families of the victims while also praying for the safety and earliest recovery of the survivors.
The premier has ordered an investigation into the tragedy as well.
“Shocked and saddened by the PIA crash. Am in touch with PIA CEO Arshad Malik, who has left for Karachi and with the rescue and relief teams on ground as this is the priority right now [sic],” he tweeted, announcing that an immediate inquiry would follow.