People stand on a roof of a house amidst debris of a crashed passenger plane in Karachi. Reuters
The tragedy has occurred at a time when Pakistanis across the country are preparing to celebrate the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan, with many travelling back to their homes in cities and villages.
Pakistan had resumed domestic flights just earlier this week ahead of the Eid Al Fitr holidays.
The country has been on a lockdown since mid-March to try to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Compounding the despair, five or six houses were also destroyed in the crash of the domestic flight operated by Pakistan International Airlines, after what appeared to be an engine failure during landing.
The initial indication is that there have been one or a few survivors.
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 Masood, 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.
As per witnesses quoted by news agencies, 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 poor and heavily congested.
A resident of the area, Abdul Rahman, stated that he saw the aircraft circle at least three times, appearing to try to land before it crashed into several houses.
Video circulated on social media appeared to show the aircraft flying low over a residential area with flames shooting from one of its engines.
Attempts to avoid crowding during the times of pandemic also proved to be a challenge for the authorities.
Police wearing protective masks had to struggle to clear away crowds to allow a firetruck and an ambulance to move through the narrow streets towards the crash site, the air filled with dust and smoke.
A transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control, posted on the website LiveATC.net, indicated the heartbreaking situation and that 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.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s tweet reflects the anguish of the entire nation and the world over the sad incident: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash. Am in touch with PIA CEO Arshad Malik, who has left for Karachi & with the rescue & relief teams on ground as this is the priority right now. Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”
In 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from a remote northern to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people.
The deadly crash necessitates a thorough re-think about airline procedures. The goal of the investigations should be to make recommendations to aviation authorities to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
Passengers on a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight from Islamabad to Sukkur were shocked when the door of the aircraft opened during landing.
Army soldiers who manned roadside checkpoints along with police since late March when the lockdown was enforced, were seen leaving for their barracks in the capital, Islamabad and elsewhere in the country on Saturday.
This is the first time Pakistan’s national flag carrier will be operating direct flights to the US. Hafeez said before the 9/11 attacks, PIA planes did not have the capacity to fly directly to the US, which is why they had to make a stop somewhere.
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