A Pakistan International Airlines Airbus jet with 99 people on board crashed into a crowded residential district of the city of Karachi on Friday afternoon while approaching the airport.
At least 56 people were confirmed to have died, hospital officials said, though other officials gave different figures and authorities did not release an estimate of casualties on the ground.
Two passengers survived, including Zafar Masood, president of the Bank of Punjab, a Sindh provincial government spokesman said. The bank said he had suffered fractures but was “conscious and responding well”.
Smoke billowed from the scene where flight PK 8303 came down at about 2:45 p.m. (0945 GMT). Twisted fuselage lay in the rubble of multi-storey buildings as ambulances rushed through chaotic crowds.
The crash happened on the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid, when Pakistanis travel to visit relatives.
“The aeroplane first hit a mobile tower and crashed over houses,” witness Shakeel Ahmed said near the site, a few kilometres short of the airport.
The Airbus A320 was flying from the eastern city of Lahore to Karachi in the south with 91 passengers and eight crew, civil aviation authorities said, just as Pakistan was resuming domestic flights in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 56 dead bodies were brought to JPMC hospital and the Civil Hospital Karachi, officials from both institutions said. The airline’s chief executive, Arshad Malik, told reporters he knew of 41 confirmed deaths.
The plane was on its second attempt to land after cancelling a previous one in a routine manoeuvre known as a go-around, one person familiar with the investigation said.
The pilot told air traffic controllers he had lost power from both engines, according to a recording posted on liveatc.net, a widely respected aviation monitoring website.
“We are returning back, sir, we have lost engines,” a man was heard saying in a recording released by the website. The controller freed up both the airport’s runways but moments later the man called “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”.
There was no further communication from the plane, according to the tape, which could not immediately be authenticated.
“The last we heard from the pilot was that he has some technical problem … It is a very tragic incident,” said the state carrier’s spokesman, Abdullah H. Khan.
Another senior civil aviation official said it appeared the plane had been unable to lower its undercarriage for the first approach due to a technical fault, but it was too early to determine the cause.
A search immediately began for the two flight recorders or ‘black boxes’, one for cockpit conversations and the other for data.
Aviation safety experts say air crashes typically have multiple causes, and that it is too early to understand them within the first hours or days.
Army and rescue services rushed to the area. Footage showed cars on fire.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash. Am in touch with PIA CEO Arshad Malik, who has left for Karachi & with the rescue & relief teams on ground as this is the priority right now.
“Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also offered condolences.
Airbus said the jet first flew in 2004 and was fitted with engines built by CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran.
Pakistan’s worst plane disaster was in 2010, when an AirBlue flight crashed near Islamabad, killing 152 people.