Pakistan plane crash survivor: ‘All I could see was fire’

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One of the survivors of Friday’s plane crash in the Pakistani city of Karachi has described his ordeal, saying all he could see “was fire”.

Passenger Muhammad Zubair was one of at least two passengers who survived after the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Airbus A320 came down in a residential area.

Health authorities in Sindh province said 97 deaths had been confirmed.

The cause of the crash is not yet known.

The pilot had reported a technical fault after one failed landing attempt, according to local media, then issued a mayday call as the plane came down.

It came days after Pakistan allowed commercial flights to resume after the country’s coronavirus lockdown was eased.

How did Muhammad Zubair escape?

Flight PK8303, an Airbus A320 carrying 91 passengers and eight crew – including many families travelling ahead of Sunday’s Eid holiday – had travelled from Lahore.

It was attempting to land at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport at about 14:30 local time (09:30 GMT) when it came down.

Mr Zubair, who suffered only minor injuries, said the plane attempted one landing and then crashed 10-15 minutes later.

“No-one was aware that the plane was about to crash; they were flying the plane in a smooth manner,” he said.

He lost consciousness following the crash. When he came to, he said, “I could hear screams from all directions. Kids and adults. All I could see was fire. I couldn’t see any people – just hear their screams”.

“I opened my seatbelt and saw some light – I went towards the light. I had to jump down about 10ft (3m) to get to safety,” he added.

Why did the aircraft crash?

The plane was only just short of the runway perimeter when it struck houses in the Model Colony residential area. TV footage showed rescue crews combing through debris strewn across the streets of the densely populated zone. A number of cars were set on fire.

Eyewitness Mohammed Uzair Khan told the BBC he had heard a massive sound and went outside his home. “Almost four houses were completely collapsed, there was so much fire and smoke,” he said. “They are almost my neighbours, I can’t tell you what a horrible thing it was.”

Purported audio of the conversation between air traffic control and a pilot was published by Pakistani media. The pilot is heard saying the plane had “lost engines”. An air traffic controller asks whether it is going to carry out a “belly landing”, to which the pilot replies “mayday, mayday, mayday”.

One civil aviation official told Reuters the plane may have been unable to lower its undercarriage.

Images posted on social media appeared to show scorch marks under both engines, with no undercarriage visible on approach.

Investigators will try to retrieve the so-called black box recorders to help determine the cause. A committee of investigation has already been set up.

PIA said the plane had joined the fleet in 2014 and passed its annual airworthiness inspection last November.

What do we know about the casualties?

According to local authorities, 97 deaths have been confirmed, although it is unclear how many of the dead were passengers and how many residents on the ground. Nineteen of the dead have been identified.

Zafar Masud, president of the Bank of Punjab, was the other passenger who survived the crash, a provincial government spokesman said. Both were at the front of the plane. There are reports of other survivors but these have not been confirmed.

On Saturday, funerals took place for some of the victims in Karachi. DNA tests are being conducted on the bodies of others before they can be handed over to relatives.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and saddened” by the crash, promising an immediate investigation.

But the Pakistan Airlines’ Pilots Association (Palpa) said it had no faith in the official investigation. The group called for international investigators to be involved in the inquiry.

What is Pakistan’s safety record like?

Pakistan has a chequered aviation safety record, including a number of airliner crashes.

In 2010, an aircraft operated by private airline Airblue crashed near Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board – the deadliest air disaster ever in Pakistan.

In 2012, a Boeing 737-200 operated by Pakistan’s Bhoja Air crashed in bad weather on its approach to land in Rawalpindi, killing all 121 passengers and six crew.

And in 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames while travelling from northern Pakistan to Islamabad, killing 47 people.

Are you in Karachi? Did you witness the crash? Share your experiences by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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