When the plane shook violently, Mohammad Zubair thought it was turbulence. Then, the pilot spoke on the public address system to warn that the landing could be “problematic”.
Moments later, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane crashed in a busy neighborhood near Karachi International Airport, killing at least 97 people, all believed to be all passengers and crew. Zubair was one of two people who survived the accident on Friday.
Only 19 bodies have been identified so far and most of them have severe burns, said Meeran Yousaf, spokeswoman for the province’s health department. Three people on the ground were reportedly injured and rescuers were still searching the rubble on Saturday.
The plane crashed near Jinnah International Airport, in a poor and crowded residential area known as Model Colony. At least five houses were destroyed.
On board the damaged Airbus A230 were 91 passengers and eight crew members, said Abdul Sattar Kokhar, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority. The other survivor is Zafar Masood, a bank executive.
In a telephone interview from the hospital bed he was admitted to, Zubair, a mechanical engineer, said that flight PK8308 had taken off on time from the eastern city of Lahore at 1:00 p.m. It was a smooth and uneventful journey until the device began its descent shortly before 3:00 p.m.
“Suddenly the plane began to shake violently, over and over again,” said Zubair. The aircraft turned and the pilot was heard over the loudspeakers, who explained that they were having problems with an engine and that the landing could be “problematic”. It’s the last thing Zubair remembers until he woke up in the middle of a chaos scene.
“I saw a lot of smoke and fire. I heard people scream, children crying, “he added.
He crawled away from the smoke and debris and someone picked him up and put him in an ambulance.
Pakistan had resumed domestic flights earlier this week before Eid-al Fitr, the holiday at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Many of the passengers were families returning to their homes for the celebration, said Science Minister Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry.
After the quarantine decreed in mid-March across the country to combat the coronavirus, flights resumed with one empty seat in two to promote social distance.
The southern province of Sindh, whose capital is Karachi, is the epicenter of the outbreak in the country, with about 20,000 of its more than 50,000 cases. Pakistan has reported 1,101 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The last conversation between the pilot and the airport’s air traffic control tower, posted on the LiveATC.net website, indicated that he had failed to land and was circling to make another attempt.
The airworthiness documents showed that the last time the plane was inspected by the authorities was on November 1, 2019. The PIA chief engineer signed a certificate on April 28 saying that the plane had received all maintenance and that “it is in airworthy conditions and complies with all safety standards ”.
Ownership records for the Airbus A320 showed that China Eastern Airlines operated the aircraft between 2004 and 2014, before moving on to the PIA fleet, leased to GE Capital Aviation Services.
According to Airbus, until Friday the plane had 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 journeys. The firm said it will provide technical assistance to researchers in France and Pakistan, as well as to the airline and the engine manufacturer.
The Associated Press journalists Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Kathy Gannon and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Asim Tanvir, in Multan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.