A Pakistan International Airlines jetliner carrying 98 people crashed Friday in a crowded neighbourhood near the airport in Karachi after an apparent engine failure before landing.
Sindh health officials said 66 dead bodies have been recovered from the crash site.
It is, however, unclear if the deceased were all on board the flight or include residents of the area as well where the crash took place.
Sindh Health Minister Azra Pechuho said there are two survivors including President of the Bank of Punjab Zafar Masood. He called up his mother to inform her of his well-being.
The pilot of PIA Flight PK8303 was heard transmitting mayday to the tower shortly before the crash of the Airbus A320, which was flying from Lahore to Karachi.
Video on social media appeared to show the jet flying low over a residential area with flames shooting from one of its engines.
Police wearing protective masks struggled to clear away crowds in the narrow streets of the crash site in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony so ambulances could move through.
Police and soldiers have cordoned off the area amid the smoke and dust.
Relief and rescue operations are still underway. Pakistani armed forces and civilian authorities are afoot to recover bodies and save any survivors from the crash.
The PIA, meanwhile, has been asked to provide shelter to those whose houses were destroyed in the crash.
Pakistan had resumed domestic flights earlier this week ahead of the Eid-ul Fitr holiday, marking the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March because of the novel coronavirus.
Faisal Edhi of the Edhi Welfare Trust said that around 25 to 30 residents whose houses were damaged by the plane have also been taken to the hospital, mostly with burn wounds.
The aircraft wings during the crash landing hit the houses in the residential colony before crashing down.
“At least 25 houses have been damaged in this incident, Edhi said.
Pakistan’s civil aviation authority said the plane carried 91 passengers and a crew of seven. Earlier, the airport in the northeastern city of Lahore had said 107 were on board. Civil aviation authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the discrepancy was due to confusion in the chaotic aftermath of the crash.
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.
Witnesses said the Airbus aircraft appeared to try to land two or three times.
A resident of the area, Abdul Rahman, said he saw the aircraft circle at least three times, appearing to try to land before it crashed into several houses.
Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked and saddened by the PIA crash… Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers and condolences go to families of the deceased.”
Airbus did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the crash. The flight from the northeastern city of Lahore typically lasts about an hour and a half.
Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on 1 November, 2019. PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate on 28 April saying all maintenance had been conducted. 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.
The Airbus plane first flew in 2004 and was fitted with engines built by CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran, according to FlightRadar24. It was on its sixth flight after returning to service following a widespread airline industry grounding in March over the coronavirus crisis, the website added.
Perry Bradley, a spokesman for GE, said the firm was “aware of reports of the accident and is closely monitoring the situation”.
In Pakistan’s most recent deadly crash, 47 people died when a PIA jet smashed into a mountainside in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in 2016. The country’s worst plane disaster was in 2010, when an AirBlue flight crashed near Islamabad, killing 152 people.
Minister of Health and Population Welfare has declared emergency in all major hospitals of Karachi after the incident.
The incident occurred on a day when Pakistan’s interior ministry announced Eid holidays from 22 to 27 May.
With inputs from PTI