KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A jetliner carrying 98 people crashed Friday in a crowded neighborhood near the airport in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi after an apparent engine failure during landing. Officials said there were at least two survivors from the plane, and it was unknown how many people on the ground were hurt, with at least five houses destroyed.
The pilot of Pakistani International Airlines Flight 8303 was heard transmitting a 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.
The plane came to rest about 2:39 p.m. in a narrow alley in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony between houses smashed by its wings. Police in protective masks struggled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so ambulances and firetrucks could reach the crash site.
As darkness fell, crews worked under floodlights to recover bodies and a portable morgue was set up.
Two passengers survived, said Meeran Yousaf, Sindh provincial Health Department spokeswoman, revising an earlier statement that three had survived.
At least three people on the ground were injured.
Pakistan had resumed domestic flights earlier this week ahead of the Eid-al 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 coronavirus, and the airline has been using social distancing guidelines on its flights by leaving every other seat vacant.
Southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, is the epicenter of the virus infections in Pakistan. The province has nearly 20,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 cases.
Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar initially said all aboard died, but two civil aviation officials later said that at least two people survived. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.
Local TV stations reported that three people sitting in the front row of the aircraft survived and showed video 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.
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.
The A320 can carry up to 180 passengers, depending on how its cabin is configured.
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,” 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.
In one of the radio communications, at least one exchange from the flight sounded like a warning alarm was going off in the cockpit.
A resident, Abdul Rahman, said he saw the jet circle at least three times, appearing to try to land before it crashed.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash… Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”
Science Minister Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry said this year has been a “catastrophe — just survival is so difficult,” with the pandemic and now the tragedy of the plane crash.
Most of the passengers were heading home to celebrate Eid-al Fitr, he said.
“What is most unfortunate and sad is whole families have died, whole families who were travelling together for the Eid holiday,” he said in a telephone interview in the capital of Islamabad.
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 Nov. 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.
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.
Perry Bradley, a spokesman for GE, said the firm was “aware of reports of the accident and is closely monitoring the situation.”
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.