KARACHI, Pakistan – A jetliner carrying 98 people crashed Friday in a crowded neighborhood near the airport in Pakistan's port city of Karachi after an apparent engine failure during landing. Officials said there were two survivors from the plane but they also found at least 57 bodies in the wreckage.
It was unknown how many people on the ground were hurt as the Pakistan International Airlines jet, an Airbus A320, plowed into an alley and destroyed at least five houses.
The pilot was heard transmitting a mayday to the tower shortly before the crash of Flight 8303, which was flying from Lahore to Karachi and carrying many traveling for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Video on social media appeared to show the jet flying low with flames shooting from one of its engines.
The plane went down about 2:39 p.m. northeast of Jinnah International Airport in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony between houses that were smashed by its wings. Police in protective masks struggled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so ambulances and fire trucks could reach the crash site.
Pakistan's civil aviation authority said the plane had 91 passengers and a crew of seven. The A320 can carry 180 passengers, depending on how its cabin is configured.
Pakistan had resumed domestic flights this week ahead of Eid-al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March because of the 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 epicenter of the virus infections in Pakistan. The province has nearly 20,000 of the country's more than 50,000 cases.
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.
A resident, Abdul Rahman, said he saw the jet circle at least three times, appearing to try to land before it crashed.
Science Minister Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry said this year has been a “catastrophe – just survival is so difficult,” with the pandemic and now the tragedy of the plane crash.
Most of the passengers were heading home to celebrate Eid-al Fitr, he said. The flight from the northeastern city of Lahore typically lasts about an hour and a half.
“What is most unfortunate and sad is whole families have died, whole families who were traveling together for the Eid holiday,” he said in a telephone interview in the capital of Islamabad.
Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check Nov. 1.
The airline's chief engineer signed a separate certificate April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted. It said “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.