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 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.
Officials in Sindh Province confirmed 37 fatalities to the BBC, though the final count is expected to be higher.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.
Yousaf also said three passengers survived and that an 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. They reported that at least 11 bodies were recovered from the crash site and six people were injured.
It was not immediately clear whether the casualties were passengers or people on the ground because the aircraft crashed into a crowded neighborhood on the edge of the airport. Mayor Wasim 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.
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.
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 as 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, 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 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 Lahore to Karachi.
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.
Commercial flights had just resumed in Pakistan following a two-month shutdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. According to Johns Hopkins data, the virus has infected more than 50,000 people and killed 1,067 people there as of Friday morning.
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.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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