97 killed in Pakistani airliner crash, two survive

"The last we heard from the pilot was that he has some technical problem," PIA spokesman Abdullah H. Khan said in a video statement. "It is a very tragic incident."

A plume of smoke is seen after the crash of a PIA aircraft in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020 (photo credit: TWITTER/SHAHABNAFEES VIA REUTERS)
A plume of smoke is seen after the crash of a PIA aircraft in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020
(photo credit: TWITTER/SHAHABNAFEES VIA REUTERS)
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.
 
 A statement from the provincial health minister's office on Saturday put the death toll at 97, with no confirmed deaths 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.
"WE HAVE LOST ENGINES"
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 told Reuters 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.
SEARCH FOR BLACK BOXES
The flight data recorder from the Pakistani airliner that crashed into a residential neighborhood of Karachi has been found, an official said on Saturday.
"The black box had been found late yesterday, we are handing it over to the inquiry board," PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan said. He said that included both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.
The airline's chief executive, Arshad Malik, said on Friday the last message received from the pilot indicated there was a technical problem.
Another senior civil aviation official told Reuters it appeared the plane had been unable to lower its landing gear for the first approach.
Aviation safety experts say air crashes typically have multiple causes.
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 prime minister, Imran Khan, announced soon after the crash that there would be an inquiry, and a four-member team was constituted Friday night, according to a notification from the government's aviation division, seen by Reuters.
The team includes three members of the Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board and one from the Pakistan Air Force's safety board. The team will issue a preliminary statement within a month, the notification says.
Army and civil administration personnel were clearing through the debris in the Karachi neighborhood on Saturday and assisting residents whose homes had been damaged.
"Rescue Op in progress ... 25 affected houses cleared, their residents accommodated at various places with assistance of Civil Administration," the Army said on Twitter.
Pakistan only last week resumed domestic flights it had suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people traveling for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, expected to fall on Sunday or Monday in the country.
Friday's crash is the worst air disaster in Pakistan since 2012, when a Bhoja Air passenger aircraft, a Boeing 737, crashed in Islamabad, killing 127 people.