PIA plane crash: No survivors except 2 as rescuers finish accounting for passengers

97 of the 99 souls aboard Pakistan International Airlines flight PK-8303 bound for Karachi perished when it crashed on Friday

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Rescue workers gather at the site of the plane crash in a residential area near the airport in Karachi, Pakistan May 22. Photo: Reuters

KARACHI: The passenger death toll from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-8303, which crashed on Friday afternoon after sending a distress call, has risen to 97, marking it as the third most catastrophic aviation disaster in Pakistan's history. 

Only two survived the crash — the chief executive of the Bank of Punjab and a young engineer. 

The Karachi-bound flight from Lahore had been seconds away from landing at the Karachi airport when it crashed in the residential Jinnah Garden area near Model Colony in Malir, right outside the airport's boundary wall. 

Ninety-nine were aboard the plane when it crashed into a narrow residential street, dealing significant damage to houses in a densely populated area. Thankfully, there were no deaths on the ground. 

According to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), 25 houses in Model Colony, the site of the crash, had been cleared while a search and rescue operation was still underway. The residents had been accommodated at various places with the assistance of the civil administration, it added.

The Sindh Health Department confirmed that 66 bodies had been shifted to Jinnah Hospital, of which 20 bodies were of women and 43 of men. Three bodies of children had also been brought to the hospital.

The health department further said that the remaining 31 bodies had been moved to Civil Hospital, of which six bodies were of women and 25 of men. 

A spokesperson for the health department said that so far a total of 23 bodies have been recognised out of which 19 have been handed over to the families.

Separately, rescue officials said some bodies had later been shifted from the Civil and Jinnah Hospitals to an Edhi morgue in Sohrab Goth and the Chhipa morgue at FTC.

“DNA samples were taken from the bodies before being shifted to the morgues,” officials said, adding that 96 bodies were at the morgues, while one had been handed over to the deceased's relatives.

Police said four bodies at the Jinnah Hospital have been released to relatives of deceased. Authorities added that at the moment 40 bodies were in cold storage at an Edhi morgue while 35 were in an Edhi cold storage.

“Three bodies at Edhi morgue have been released after being identified, while six have been released from the Chippa morgue,” authorities said, adding till now 12 bodies have been handed to the deceased’s victims after being identified.

'Govt to bear cost of repair of damaged houses'

Governor Sindh Imran Ismail and federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan spoke to media today regarding the crash.

The governor Sindh said that a team to carry out DNA tests had arrived in Karachi from Lahore and is working on the identification process.

Ismail said that those whose houses were damaged in the crash have been shifted to the hotel situated within the airport premises.

The governor Sindh said that those who cannot be accommodated will be shited to Qasar-e-Naz guest house.

“The examination revealed damage of low magnitude which is nothing short of a miracle,” he said.

Meanwhile, federal minister Sarwar Khan said that apart from two survivors, captain and crew members lost lives in the crash among others.

He said that the pilot tried his level best to limit the damage at the time of the unfortunate incident.

Sarwar Khan said that the government will bear the cost of repair of the damaged houses, adding that the damage to vehicles will also be ascertained.

He said that the wounded will be given Rs500,000 in compensation, and if there is any recommendation then it can be forwarded to the inquiry committee.

“Will try our best that the results (of the investigation) are brought to the fore as soon as possible,” said the aviation minister.

He said the inquiry will be made public and it will be ensured that it is transparent.

Sarwar Khan said if the inquiry proves dereliction of duty against the PIA CEO and himself, then they will resign and present themselves for accountability.

He said that currently the priority is to hand over bodies of the victims to the families.

The governor Sindh also added that the prime minister is ‘quite serious’ about the inquiry report, adding that the matter should be investigated same as the sugar crisis.

Mayday distress signal sounded

The pilot sent a Mayday distress call and told controllers the aircraft had lost power from both its engines on its second attempt to land, according to a recording posted on monitoring website liveatc.net.

After the aircraft reportedly called off an earlier attempt to land and went around for a second attempt, a controller radioed the pilot of flight 8303 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, reported to be an Airbus A320, according to the audio from liveatc.net, a respected source for in-flight recordings.

PIA chief executive 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. 

Surviving passengers

Bank of Punjab (BOP) chief executive Zafar Masud miraculously survived the incident and is one of the only two surviving passengers.

Masud was taken to a hospital after being recovered from the crash site. He is said to be stable in stable condition. 

The other passenger has been identified as Mohammad Zubair, who managed to exit the aircraft.

Rescue workers carry a victim at the site of a passenger plane crash in a residential area near an airport in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020. Photo: Reuters

PIA chief says plane was 'technically sound'

The PIA chief, in a press conference last night, has said that the aircraft was "technically sound" when it took off from Lahore.

Air Marshal Arshad Malik said the aviation ministry will oversee an inquiry into the incident and that his team stood with the government of Pakistan, the armed forces, and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

"We will need 2-3 days to complete the [overall] operation," Malik said. 

"We want the inquiry to be completed as soon as possible but we cannot say when. We do not wish to interfere with the inquiry in any way," he said.

Survivor recalls horrific incident

Mohammad Zubair, one of the two survivors, was interviewed over the phone in Shahzeb Khanzada's show on Geo News, where he shared details of the horrific account. He said he is a mechanical engineer and after working on a project in Gujranwala, had been on his way home for Eid.

He said that his limbs have burn wounds but he is otherwise alright.

Recalling the plane's sudden descent, he said that the pilot had announced the landing, after which two sudden jerks were felt by passengers.

He said the plane hit the runway momentarily before it was flown upwards. "People began to pray fervently."

Zubair said that the pilot seemed to be "searching for empty space" to land the plane but was unable to find any, and the next thing he knew was that the aircraft had crashed. He saw the area "engulfed in flames" and could "hear screams from adults and children alike".

He said that he unbuckled his seatbelt and saw a light in the distance. He then leapt 10 feet down from the plane.

"They took me to Jinnah hospital and then I was brought to Civil hospital, where I currently am," said Zubair.

When asked how much time had passed between the two attempts at descent, the survivor put the estimate between 10 and 15 minutes. He said that when the second attempt to land was being made, the plane crashed two to three minutes after the landing announcement.

Zubair said that the passengers had no inkling they would crash. "The way things were handled, it seemed we would just make a routine landing."

People stand on a roof of a house amidst debris of a passenger plane, crashed in a residential area near an airport in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020

Government response

Prime Minister Imran Khan promised an "immediate inquiry" into the matter and said that he is in touch with PIA chief Malik. He had said rescue and relief efforts are the "priority right now".

Following the premier's remarks, Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan had formally ordered an inquiry into the plane crash.

According to APP, the minister ordered the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board to carry out investigations.

An investigation team headed by Air Commodore Usman Ghani has been constituted and which will furnish its report to the Aviation Division "within the shortest possible time", said a notification issued by the Aviation Division later in the day.

"A preliminary statement will be issued within one month," added the notification.

According to CAA, the aviation minister has also directed that five of each of the deceased's heirs be provided air tickets to reach Karachi.

Furthermore, insurance compensation will be paid to the next of kin "on most immediate basis".

The airport hotel shall be available as accommodation for family members.

The aviation minister will also visit Karachi today and hold detailed meetings with the CAA and PIA management. He will also meet the families of the passengers and the residents whose houses were damaged.

Meanwhile, Governor Sindh Imran Ismail said that he has called the PIA chairman and instructed him to provide shelter to the people whose houses were damaged.

"PIA will take full responsibility and provide hotel immediately to them," he said.

Ismail said that the premier has asked PIA "to take care of affectees without any delay".