Toll From Pakistani Airbus Crash in Karachi Rises to 80
A Pakistani flag flies in front of the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, Pakistan. (Photographer: Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg)

Toll From Pakistani Airbus Crash in Karachi Rises to 80

(Bloomberg) -- A Pakistan International Airlines Corp. flight with 99 people on board crashed into a residential neighborhood of Karachi after the pilots reported losing power from both engines as the plane approached for landing.

So far 80 deaths have been confirmed, said Meeran Yousuf, spokeswoman for the provincial health ministry. At least two passengers on the Airbus SE A320 jet survived the impact, Sindh government spokesman Murtaza Wahab said in a tweet. One of them was Zafar Masud, president of the Bank of Punjab, he said.

“There was fire everywhere, and everyone was screaming after the crash. I opened my seatbelt, and headed towards the light,” Muhammad Zubair, another survivor, who was sitting in the eighth row, said on a local television broadcast.

Casualties included people on the ground when the plane went down after reporting engine trouble.

Flight PK 8303 from Lahore was carrying 91 passengers and eight crew, the Civil Aviation Authority said in an updated tally. Television footage showed cars and homes on fire in the neighborhood near the airport in the nation’s commercial hub. The A320 narrow-body jet first entered service in 2004, and was operated by PIA since 2014, Airbus said.

Toll From Pakistani Airbus Crash in Karachi Rises to 80

The pilots in Friday’s crash reported losing power from both engines, according to a recording from, which collects audio feeds from air-traffic controllers.

“Sir, we have lost engines,” the pilot said to a controller, according to the LiveATC recording.

‘Mayday. Mayday’

About 30 seconds later, the pilot again radioed a distress call: “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.”

It’s the second plane crash for the state-owned carrier in less than four years. Pakistan International’s chairman resigned in late 2016, less than a week after the crash of an ATR 42 turboprop killed 47 people.

“Although the public sector national carrier’s administration has been mismanaged for decades, this never reflected the engineering competence,” said Burzine Waghmar, a member of the Centre for the Study of Pakistan at SOAS University of London. “PIA’s maintenance and engineering is second to none.”

The airline, founded in 1946, suffered as many as 51 safety-related incidents before Friday’s crash, according to data from Aviation Safety Network.

The crashed A320 joined the airline six years ago and had a major check in March, according to a statement by the local Civil Aviation Authority. It carried out eight flights since March 21 after the nation restarted flights after easing its coronavirus related lockdown.

The jet was previously flown by China Eastern Airlines from 2004 until 2014, the Associated Press reported, citing ownership records. It was then added to PIA’s fleet under a lease from GE Capital Aviation Services, the AP said.

Pandemic Complications

Airbus said it was providing technical assistance to France’s Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses and to Pakistani authorities in charge of the investigation. The company is working on getting a team to the crash site, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The coronavirus pandemic could complicate things as investigators traveling to the site would have to comply with local quarantine regulations unless they receive special exemptions. Pakistan will also form a four-member body to investigate, and expects to submit an initial statement within a month, its civil aviation authority said.

Engine manufacturer CFM International and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board are monitoring the situation, representatives for both said. CFM is a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Safran SA.

The A320’s pilot had reported a “technical fault” before deciding to go around instead of landing, the carrier’s chief Malik said in a video message before visiting the crash site. PIA is trying to determine what the technical fault was, Malik said.

Toll From Pakistani Airbus Crash in Karachi Rises to 80

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Twitter, said he’s in touch with the CEO and that an investigation would be conducted soon. Pakistan’s army tweeted that troops had reached the site to conduct relief-and-rescue efforts.

The plane damaged as many as 20 houses, Ahmed Edhi, spokesman for rescue agency Edhi, said by phone from the accident site.

Crash Possibilities

Photos purportedly taken of the plane after its initial attempt at landing appear to show damage to the underside of both engines, suggesting that its landing gear wasn’t down. The photos were posted on the Aviation Herald website.

One possibility is that the plane ran out of fuel while attempting to circle back to the runway to land, said Jeff Guzzetti, the former head of accident investigations at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

The plane clearly had enough power to climb again, so the engines were working in spite of any damage they may have sustained, said Guzzetti. Pictures from the scene show there was a fire, but it appears to have been less severe than what would be expected in a typical crash, which would suggest they were low on fuel, he said.

Guzzetti cautioned that it’s too early to say anything for certain. “You certainly don’t want to rule anything out,” he said. “We don’t know enough at this point.”

Eid ul-Fitr

Like other carriers worldwide, PIA struggled with plane groundings in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The company, which hasn’t made a profit since 2004, asked the government for more financial support in March. Friday’s crash happened as the nation started holidays to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, when many Pakistanis return home to celebrate.

But signs of a recovery were in sight as the country began emerging from a two-month lockdown. Pakistan recently began resuming domestic flights last week, starting with 20% of capacity.

Globally, airline safety had improved last year, with an accident rate of one per every 884,000 flights compared with an average of 640,000 for 2014-18, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The Pakistan crash comes at a terrible time for airlines, which are staring at a $314 billion loss in ticket sales this year, as the Coronavirus outbreak idles 70% of global capacity, IATA has said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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