Pakistan crash survivor says pilot warned of ‘troublesome’ landing
One of two survivors of a Pakistan plane crash that killed 97 people has described the terrifying last moments of the flight.
In a telephone interview from his hospital bed, mechanical engineer Mohammad Zubair, 24, said the last thing he remembers from the flight is the pilot telling passengers over the intercom that they were experiencing engine trouble and the landing would be “troublesome”.
The aircraft made three attempts to land, once seeming to almost land and then take off again.
“Suddenly the plane jerked violently, once and then again,” Mr Zubair told AP.
The pilot’s announcement was the last thing Mr Zubair remembered until he woke up in a scene of chaos.
“After it hit and I regained consciousness, I saw fire everywhere and no one was visible,” Mr Zubair said in a separate video clip circulated on social media.
“The cries were everywhere and everybody was trying to survive. I undid my seat belt and I saw some light and tried to walk towards it. Then I jumped out.”
Mr Zubair crawled his way out of the smoke and rubble, and was eventually pulled from the ground and rushed into an ambulance.
“I saw so much smoke and fire. I heard people crying, children crying,” he told AP.
“I’m very thankful to Allah for granting me a second life,” he said. “It is a miracle.”
The engineer had suffered burns but was in a stable condition, a health ministry official said.
The Pakistan International Airlines flight crashed into a crowded neighbourhood on Friday near Jinnah International Airport, killing 97 people, all of whom are believed to be passengers and crew members.
Flight PK8303 had taken off on time from the eastern city of Lahore at 1pm.
It was a smooth, uneventful flight until the aircraft began its descent near Karachi’s international airport shortly before 3pm.
Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the Airbus A320 was carrying 91 passengers, six cabin crew and two pilots. The only other survivor of the crash was president of the Bank of Punjab, Zafar Masud.
PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafiz Khan said the aircraft also destroyed or heavily damaged 18 homes as it crashed near the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony.
Provincial Health Department spokeswoman Meeran Yousaf said only 21 of the bodies from Friday’s crash had been identified and that most of the bodies were badly burned. Eight people on the ground were injured. Three remained hospitalised and all residents are accounted for, she said.
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 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.
‘THE PILOT DID HIS BEST’
PIA Chairman Arshad Malik told reporters Friday in Karachi that an independent inquiry would be held but said the aircraft was in good working order.
On Saturday, Pakistan’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told reporters the inquiry report will be done in three months and its findings presented to parliament.
The black box that will detail the final moments of the flight was recovered within hours of the crash and is with authorities.
Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on November 1, 2019.
PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted. It said “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.
PIA’s chief executive Malik described the Airbus A320 as one of the safest planes.
“Technically, operationally everything was in place,” he said, promising to work with investigators.
Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said the captain, Sajjad Gull, had been described by the airline as a senior A320 pilot with extensive flight experience.
“The pilot did his best to bring the plane to the runway and tried hard to contain damages,” Khan said Saturday.
“There will be fair inquiry to put forth facts immediately before the public and parliament.”
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.”
Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.
Friday’s crash was the deadliest since 2012 when a Boeing 737 passenger plane owned by Bhoja Air crashed near Islamabad killing all 127 on board.
In 2016, a PIA plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people.
The deadliest air disaster on Pakistani soil was in 2010 when an Airbus A321 operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi crashed into the hills outside Islamabad as it came in to land, killing all 152 people on board.
An official report blamed the accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere.
PIA, a leading airline until the 1970s, has seen its reputation sink due to frequent cancellations, delays and financial troubles.
‘WHOLE FAMILIES HAVE DIED’
Pakistan’s deadliest aviation accident in eight years came days after commercial flights resumed ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Planes had been grounded during a two-month lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Many of the passengers aboard the flight 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 said.
“What is most unfortunate and sad is whole families have died, whole families who were travelling together for the Eid holiday,” he told AP.
Social media and local news reports said Zara Abid, an actor and an award-winning model, was among those killed.
A senior banker, his wife and three young children were also reportedly killed.
The airliner ploughed into the crowded Model Colony neighbourhood as many of the men of the area were gathered at nearby mosques for weekly Friday prayers, perhaps explaining why the number of injured on the ground was just eight, mostly women and children.
Only three were still hospitalised, said the Sindh Health Department spokeswoman, and all the residents of the 18 homes that were damaged by the crash were accounted for.
“The men were praying at the nearby mosque, Masjid-e-Bilal, which is 100 meters from where the plane crashed,” said resident Amir Chaudhry, whose sister was injured when the airliner crashed into the neighbourhood.
At a burial, Jehanzeb Baloch explained how his nephew, Major Shaheryar Baloch, “was supposed to come last Friday but had to postpone” and had died on the flight along with his wife and two children.
Several members of the armed forces were on the plane, the military said.
“Eid has become meaningless not only for Karachi but the whole of Pakistan,” Zia ul Huq Qamar, who lives near the crash site, said.
Shahbaz Hussain said his mother, who was also among the victims, had been flying back to Karachi after becoming stranded by the lockdown in Lahore while visiting her daughters.
Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March because of the coronavirus, and when flights resumed every other seat was left vacant 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 the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Kathy Gannon and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, and Asim Tanvir, in Multan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.