UPDATE 6 – Pakistan: Death toll from plane crash rises to 54

UPDATES DEATH TOLL, ADDS NEW DETAILS

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – At least 54 people, including women and children, were killed as a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane with 99 passengers and crew onboard crashed in the southern port city of Karachi on Friday, officials and local media reported.

Earlier, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), a state-run body that regulates the air travel, put the number of passengers and crew at 107. The PIA, however, said 91 passengers, and eight crew members were on board.

The flight PK-8303, traveling from northeastern Lahore city crashed near Jinnah International Airport while landing, the Civil Aviation Authority confirmed in a statement.

Dr Seemi Jamali, the executive director of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, told Anadolu Agency that 35 dead bodies have been brought to hospital.

Dr Khadim Qureshi, head of Civil Hospital, told reporters that 18 bodies, and 20 injured persons had been brought to the health facility. Most of the injured are in critical condition, he added. One body was taken to a private hospital.

It is unclear whether the dead and injured persons are passengers or residents on ground.

An official who chose anonymity, told Anadolu Agency that “many” are feared dead.

Rescuers said dozens of people were still trapped under the rubble.

So far, two people, including country's top banker Zafar Masood, are confirmed to have survived the crash. The condition of both was stated stable by doctors.

Saeed Ghani, a provincial minister, shared his picture with Mohammad Zubiar, a survivor who is being treated at a local hospital.

"The plane started to shake close to landing. I thought it was just because of landing. But seconds after, there was a huge blast, and I fell unconscious," Zubair was quoted as saying by Ghani.

The crash occurred days after resumption of domestic flights following lifting of a month-long lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Abdullah, the PIA spokesman, told reporters that it would be early to comment on the possible causes of the crash. "The plane was not old, and (was) well-maintained," he said.

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However, an initial investigation report suggested that multiple birds collided with the plane, Geo News said.

– Mayday call

The last contact between the pilot and the control tower aired on Geo TV suggested that the crash was result of an engine fault.

"I have lost the engine," pilot Sajjad Gul was heard telling the control tower in a Mayday message.

Gul’s last word was "roger" in response to the control tower's directive that two runways are open for emergency landing.

Footage aired on local broadcaster Geo News showed clouds of smoke billowing upwards from the burning wreckage of the ill-fated plane. Several vehicles also caught fire.

The plane fell on a residential area damaging several houses, and vehicles.

"The plane came down so fast. I could not understand at the first moment what was happening," Rana Jawed, an eyewitness told reporters.

The plane, he said, had caught fire before it fell down following a "deafening explosion".

Honking ambulances, and fire brigade vehicles were seen rushing to the scene, where crowds of area residents already gathered.

Army, and police personnel also reached the site to assist the rescue operation as narrow streets hampered the movement of rescue vehicles.

Meanwhile, President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa expressed grief over the loss of lives in the crash.

"Shocked, and saddened by the PIA crash. [I] Am in touch with PIA CEO Arshad Malik, who has left for Karachi, and with the rescue, and relief teams on ground as this is the priority right now. Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased," Khan said in a twitter post.

A PIA plane had crashed on the foothills of northwestern Chitral city killing all 48 passengers onboard in December 2016.

* Kiran Butt from Lahore also contributed to this story.

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