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Jet with 98 aboard crashes into houses near Pakistan airport

A JETLINER carrying 98 people has crashed in a crowded neighbourhood near an airport in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi after an apparent engine failure during landing.

Officials said there were at least three 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 Pakistani 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 engine.

Crash site: The plane came down in a residential area of Karachi

The plane came to rest in a narrow alley in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony between houses smashed by its wings.

Police in protective masks struggled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so ambulances and firetrucks could move through.

As darkness settled over the crash site, flood lights illuminated the wreckage, where crews were still recovering bodies. A portable morgue was set up.

Three passengers survived, said Meeran Yousaf, Sindh provincial health department spokeswoman. Two had been identified by their DNA and returned to their family, she added.

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.

Wreckage: Rescue workers search for survivors

Southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, is the epicentre of virus infections in Pakistan. The province has nearly 20,000 of the country’s 50,000-plus cases.

Karachi mayor Wasim Akhtar initially revealed all aboard had died, but two civil aviation officials later said that at least two people survived. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

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. They reported that at least 11 bodies were recovered from the crash site.

Pakistan’s civi aviation authority said the plane carried 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.

A 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.’

Airbus did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the crash.

The flight from Lahore typically lasts about an hour and a half.

Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on November 1, 2019. PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate on April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted. 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.

Perry Bradley, a spokesman for GE, said the firm was ‘aware of reports of the accident and is closely monitoring the situation’.

Airbus said the plane had logged 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flights as of today. 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.