At least 40 dead bodies have been recovered after a Pakistani plane crashed with nearly 100 people on board in the southern city of Karachi on Friday, according to rescue officials, with dozens more feared dead.
The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane was close to landing when it came down among houses, sparking an explosion and killing several people on the ground.
“We have recovered 40 plus bodies so far,” Major Mohammad Mansoor from the Pakistan Rangers, who was overseeing the rescue operation, told AFP.
Faisal Edhi, who heads the charitable Edhi Foundation that was assisting rescuers, gave a slightly higher figure saying at least 42 dead bodies had been recovered from the area.
“As per our estimates there are around 50 more dead bodies under the debris,” he said in a live television broadcast.
At least two passengers survived the crash, according to Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, the information minister in Sindh province where Karachi is located.
Plumes of smoke were sent into the air as rescue workers and residents searched the debris for survivors and firefighters tried to extinguish the flames. An AFP reporter witnessed charred bodies being loaded into ambulances.
Sarfraz Ahmed — a firefighter at the crash site — told AFP the nose of the Airbus A320 and the fuselage had been heavily damaged by the impact, adding that rescuers had pulled four bodies from the wrecked aircraft, including some who were still wearing seatbelts.
Seemin Jamali, a director from Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College in the city, said eight dead and 15 injured people had been brought to the facility.
“They were all from the ground, no (plane) passengers have been brought here,” she said.
The plane had developed a technical fault, interior minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah said, adding that the pilot issued a mayday call after the craft lost an engine.
PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said there were 91 passengers and seven crew on board the flight, which lost contact with air traffic control just after 2.30pm.
An aviation authority spokesperson said the number of crew on board was eight.
Residents near the scene said their walls shook before a big explosion erupted as the aircraft slammed into their neighbourhood.
“I was coming from the mosque when I saw the plane tilting on one side. The engines’ sounds were quite weird. It was so low that the walls of my house were trembling,” said 14-year-old witness Hassan.
Karachi resident Mudassar Ali said he “heard a big bang and woke up to people calling for the fire brigade”.
The disaster comes as Pakistanis across the country are preparing to celebrate the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, with many travelling back to their homes in cities and villages.
Abdul Sattar Khokhar, a spokesman for the country’s aviation authority, said the Airbus A320 was travelling from Lahore to Karachi.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and saddened” by the crash, tweeting that he was in touch with the state airline’s chief executive.
“Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased,” he wrote on Twitter.
Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the plane crashed into a residential area minutes before it was due to land.
The Pakistan military said security forces had been deployed to the neighbourhood and helicopters were being used to survey the damage and help ongoing rescue operations, while offering condolences over the “loss of precious lives” in the incident.
Commercial flights resumed only days ago, after planes were grounded during a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.
Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.
In 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines 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, one of the world’s leading airlines until the 1970s, now suffers from a sinking reputation due to frequent cancellations, delays and financial troubles. It has been involved in numerous controversies over the years, including the jailing of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013.