'I heard people crying, children crying,' Pakistan plane crash survivor tells of ‘turbulence’ before jet hit houses

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ivor Bennett

One of the two survivors of the Pakistan plane crash said the pilot warned the landing would be "troublesome" moments before the passenger jet slammed into a crowded residential area on the edge of Karachi's international airport.

Passenger Mohammad Zubair said the plane jolted violently as it descended, which he thought was turbulence.

In a telephone interview from his hospital bed, Mr Zubair, a mechanical engineer, said flight PK8308 had taken off on time from the eastern city of Lahore at 1pm local time. It was a smooth, uneventful flight until the aircraft began its descent shortly before 3pm.

“Suddenly the plane jerked violently, once and then again,” he said.

The aircraft turned and the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. They were experiencing engine trouble and the landing could be “troublesome”, the pilot said. That was the last thing Mr Zubair remembered until he woke up in a scene of chaos.

“I saw so much smoke and fire. I heard people crying, children crying.”

He managed to crawl out of the smoke and rubble, and was eventually lifted from the ground and rushed to an ambulance.

The plane crashed into a congested residential area. Credit: AP

Authorities said Friday’s crash killed 97 people, all of them passengers and crew members.

The Pakistan International Airlines flight was carrying people returning home for Eid al-Fitr, a major holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Only 19 bodies have been identified so far and that most of the victims were badly burned, according to a provincial health department spokesperson.

Three people on the ground were reportedly injured, and rescue crews were still sifting through the rubble on Saturday.

The plane crashed near Jinnah International Airport, in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony destroying at least five houses.

Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the Airbus A230 was carrying 91 passengers and eight crew members. The only other survivor of the crash was Zafar Masood, a bank executive.

Fire brigade staff try to put out a fire caused by the plane crash in Karachi Credit: Fareed Khan/AP

Pakistan had only resumed domestic flights earlier this week.

Many of the passengers on board were families returning home for the holiday, said Science Minister Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry.

Between the coronavirus pandemic and the plane crash, this year has been a “catastrophe”, he added.

“What is most unfortunate and sad is whole families have died, whole families who were travelling together for the Eid holiday,” he said.

Social media and local news reports said Zara Abid, an actor and award-winning model, was among those killed.

A senior banker, his wife and three young children were also reportedly killed.

Volunteers look for survivors Credit: Fareed Khan/AP

Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March because of the coronavirus, and when flights resumed every other seat was left empty to promote social distancing.

Southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, is the epicentre of Pakistan’s outbreak, with nearly 20,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 cases. Pakistan has reported 1,101 deaths from Covid-19s.

A transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control, posted on the website LiveATC.net, indicated that he had failed to land and was circling to make another attempt.

“We are proceeding direct, sir – we have lost engine,” the 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.

PIA chairman Arshad Malik told reporters in Karachi on Friday that an independent inquiry would be held but said the aircraft was in good working order.

Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on November 1 2019.

PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate April 28 saying all maintenance had been carried out. 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.

Pakistan army soldiers and police commandos stand guard while they cordon off a street leading to the site of the plane crash in Karachi Credit: Fareed Khan/AP

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.

“We at Airbus are deeply saddened by the tragic news of flight #PK8303,” tweeted executive director Guillaume Faury. “In aviation, we all work hard to prevent this. Airbus will provide full assistance to the investigating authorities.”