When the airplane jolted violently, Mohammad Zubair thought it was turbulence. Then the pilot came on the intercom to warn that the landing could be “troublesome.”
Moments later, the Pakistan International Airlines flight crashed into a crowded neighborhood near Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, killing 97 people, all of whom are believed to be passengers and crew members. Zubair was one of just two surviving passengers.
The only other survivor of the crash was Zafar Masood, a bank executive.
Only 21 of the bodies from Friday’s crash have been identified and most of them were badly burned, Sindh Provincial Health Ministry spokeswoman Meeran Yousaf said.
Eight people on the ground were injured. Three remained hospitalized and all residents are accounted for, she said.
The airplane crashed at 2:39pm in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony.
The aircraft destroyed or heavily damaged 18 homes, airline spokesman Abdullah Hafiz Khan said.
In a telephone interview from his hospital bed, Zubair, a mechanical engineer, said 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 shortly before 3pm, he said.
The aircraft made three attempts to land, once seeming to almost land and then take off again, he added.
“Suddenly the plane jerked violently, once and then again,” Zubair said.
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 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 said.
He crawled his way out of the smoke and rubble, and was eventually pulled from the ground and rushed into an ambulance.
“I’m very thankful to Allah for granting me a second life,” he said. “It is a miracle.”
Pakistan had only last week resumed domestic flights ahead of Eid-al Fitr.
Many of the passengers aboard the flight were families returning home for the holiday, Pakistani Minister of Science and Technology Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry said.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the airplane crash, this year has been a “catastrophe,” he said.
“What is most unfortunate and sad is whole families have died, whole families who were traveling together for the Eid holiday,” he told reporters.
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.
Shabaz Hussein, whose mother died in the crash, told reporters that he identified her body at a local hospital and was waiting to take it away for burial.
The airliner plowed into the crowded Model Colony neighborhood 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.
“The men were praying at the nearby mosque, Masjid-e-Bilal, which is a hundred meters from where the plane crashed,” said resident Amir Chaudhry, whose sister was injured when the airliner crashed into the neighborhood.
Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since the middle of March because of the coronavirus, and when flights resumed, every other seat was left vacant to promote social distancing.
Sindh Province, of which Karachi is the capital, is the epicenter of Pakistan’s outbreak, with nearly 20,000 of the country’s more than 54,000 cases. Pakistan has reported 1,133 deaths from COVID-19.
A transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control, posted on the Web site 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.
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