A plane carrying more than 100 people crashed near Karachi, Pakistan, leaving no survivors.
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 107 were on board. Kokhar said the discrepancy was due to confusion in the chaotic aftermath of the crash.
Information on survivors varied as early 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.
Three passengers survived, said Meeran Yousaf, a Health Department spokesman for Sindh Province. At least three additional people on the ground were injured.
Two deceased passengers have been identified by their DNA and returned to family members, she added.
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 Masud, 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 as the aircraft crashed into a crowded neighborhood on the edge of the airport, and Akhtar said at least five or six houses were destroyed in the crash.
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.
The Pakistan Armed Forces also commented on the incident in a tweet from official spokesperson, Major General Babar Iftikhar.
“#COAS (Chief of Army Staff) condoles loss of precious lives in tragic PIA plane crash. Shares grief of bereaved families in this difficult time. COAS directed provision of full assistance to civil administration in rescue/ relief effort,” the tweet read.
In an earlier tweet, the Pakistan Armed Forces shared that Army Aviation flew helicopters to assess damage and assist with ongoing rescue efforts.
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.
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 a poor area and heavily congested.
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.
Videos showing large plumes of smoke from the scene have been posted to social media. Local television reports also showed smoke coming from the direction of the airport. Ambulances were on their way to the airport.
USA TODAY has reached out to Pakistan International Airlines and to the Aviation Division of the Government of Pakistan for comment on the crash.
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.
Police and military had cordoned off the area.
Airbus did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment on the crash. The flight typically takes an hour and a half to travel from the northeastern city of Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province to Karachi.
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 on the plane and that “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.
Until just a few days ago, commercial flights had been suspended in Pakistan due to the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 5 million people worldwide, killing more than 333,000. Upwards of 50,000 people have been infected in Pakistan and 1,067 people had died as of Friday morning, according to Johns Hopkins data.
On March 29, Pakistan International Airlines tweeted its planes were “parked for your safety till it is ok to fly again.”
After nearly two months grounded, 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 has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March.
Southern Sindh Province, of which the crash site of Karachi is the capital, is also the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan. The province has nearly 20,000 of the country coronavirus cases.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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