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Survivor tells of ‘turbulence’ and warning before Pakistan plane crash

World News | Published:

Mohammad Zubair said the flight had been smooth until just before landing when it jolted violently and that was the last thing he remembered.

Rescue workers at the scene

One of the two survivors of the Pakistan plane crash said the flight had proceeded normally until its descent, when there was a sudden jolt.

Passenger Mohammad Zubair said the pilot had warned that the landing in Karachi would be “troublesome” and the plane jolted violently, which he thought was turbulence.

Moments later, it slammed into a crowded neighbourhood on the edge of the international airport.

Authorities said Friday’s crash killed 97 people, all of them passengers and crew members.

The Pakistan International Airlines flight was carrying people returning home for Eid al-Fitr, a major holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Provincial health department spokeswoman Meeran Yousaf said only 19 bodies have been identified so far and that most of the victims were badly burned.

Pakistan Plane Crash
Pakistani provincial minister Saeed Ghani, second from right, meets crash survivor Mohammad Zubair in hospital in Karachi (Sindh Press Information Department/AP)

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Eight people on the ground were injured, including four who are still in hospital, and all residents are accounted for, she said.

The plane crashed near Jinnah International Airport, in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony. PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafiz Khan said the aircraft destroyed or heavily damaged 18 homes.

Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the Airbus A230 was carrying 91 passengers and eight crew members. The only other survivor of the crash was Zafar Masood, a bank executive.

In a telephone interview from his hospital bed, Mr Zubair, a mechanical engineer, said flight PK8308 had taken off on time from the eastern city of Lahore at 1pm local time. It was a smooth, uneventful flight until the aircraft began its descent shortly before 3pm.

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“Suddenly the plane jerked violently, once and then again,” he said.

CORRECTION Pakistan Plane Crash
Fire brigade staff try to put out a fire caused by the plane crash in Karachi (Fareed Khan/AP)

The aircraft turned and the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. They were experiencing engine trouble and the landing could be “troublesome”, the pilot said. That was the last thing Mr Zubair remembered until he woke up in a scene of chaos.

“I saw so much smoke and fire. I heard people crying, children crying.”

He managed to crawl out of the smoke and rubble, and was eventually lifted from the ground and rushed to an ambulance.

Pakistan had only resumed domestic flights earlier this week.

Many of the passengers on board were families returning home for the holiday, said Science Minister Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry.

Between the coronavirus pandemic and the plane crash, this year has been a “catastrophe”, he added.

“What is most unfortunate and sad is whole families have died, whole families who were travelling together for the Eid holiday,” he told the Associated Press.

CORRECTION Pakistan Plane Crash
Volunteers look for survivors (Fareed Khan/AP)

Social media and local news reports said Zara Abid, an actor and award-winning model, was among those killed.

A senior banker, his wife and three young children were also reportedly killed.

Shabaz Hussein, whose mother died in the crash, told AP that he had identified her body at a local hospital and was waiting to take it away for burial.

Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March because of the coronavirus, and when flights resumed every other seat was left empty to promote social distancing.

Southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, is the epicentre of Pakistan’s outbreak, with nearly 20,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 cases. Pakistan has reported 1,101 deaths from Covid-19s.

A transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control, posted on the website LiveATC.net, indicated that he had failed to land and was circling to make another attempt.

“We are proceeding direct, sir – we have lost engine,” the 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.

PIA chairman Arshad Malik told reporters in Karachi on Friday that an independent inquiry would be held but said the aircraft was in good working order.

Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on November 1 2019.

Pakistan Plane Crash
Pakistan army soldiers and police commandos stand guard while they cordon off a street leading to the site of the plane crash in Karachi (Fareed Khan/AP)

PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate April 28 saying all maintenance had been carried out. It said “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.

Ownership records for the Airbus A320 showed China Eastern Airlines flew the plane from 2004 until 2014. The plane then entered PIA’s fleet, leased from GE Capital Aviation Services.

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. “In aviation, we all work hard to prevent this. Airbus will provide full assistance to the investigating authorities.”

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