An airliner carrying 98 people has crashed in a crowded neighbourhood near the airport in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi after an apparent engine failure during landing.
Officials said there were at least two survivors from the plane, and it was unknown how many people on the ground were hurt, with at least five houses destroyed.
The pilot of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Flight 8303 was heard transmitting a mayday to the tower shortly before the crash of the Airbus A320, which was flying from Lahore to Karachi.
Video on social media appeared to show the jet flying low over a residential area with flames shooting from one of its engines.
The plane came to rest between houses smashed by its wings in a narrow alley in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony. Police in protective masks struggled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so ambulances and fire engines could reach the site.
As darkness fell, crews worked under floodlights, and a portable morgue was set up. At least 57 bodies were recovered, health department officials said, and PIA chairman Arshad Malik said finding all the dead could take two to three days.
Pakistan’s civil aviation authority said the plane had 91 passengers and a crew of seven. The A320 can carry up to 180 passengers, depending on how its cabin is configured.
Two passengers survived, said Meeran Yousaf, Sindh provincial Health Department spokeswoman, revising an earlier statement that three had survived.
At least three people on the ground were injured.
Pakistan had resumed domestic flights earlier this week ahead of the Eid-al Fitr holiday marking the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March because of coronavirus, and the airline has been using social distancing guidelines on its flights by leaving every other seat vacant.
Southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, is the epicentre of the virus infections in Pakistan. The province has nearly 20,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 cases.
Karachi mayor Wasim Akhtar initially said all aboard died, but two civil aviation officials later said at least two people survived.
Local TV stations reported that three people sitting in the front row of the aircraft survived and showed video of a man on a stretcher they identified as Zafar Masood, head of the Bank of Punjab.
Pakistan’s civil aviation authority said the plane was carrying 91 passengers and a crew of seven. Earlier, the airport in the north-eastern city of Lahore had said 107 were on board.
Civil aviation authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the discrepancy was due to confusion in the chaotic aftermath of the crash.
A transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control, posted on the website LiveATC.net, indicated he had failed to land and was circling to make another attempt.
“We are proceeding direct, sir — we have lost engine,” a 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.
In one of the radio communications, at least one exchange from the flight sounded like a warning alarm was going off in the cockpit.
Karachi resident Abdul Rahman said he saw the jet circle at least three times, appearing to try to land before it crashed.
Prime minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash… Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”
Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on November 1. PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate on April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted and the aircraft was “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.
Airbus said it would provide technical assistance to investigators in France and Pakistan, as well as the airline and engine manufacturers.