Just two survivors in Pakistan plane crash; bodies of 97 passengers and crew recovered

Ninety-seven bodies have been pulled from smoldering rubble in Karachi, Pakistan, where a plane crashed Friday shortly before 3 p.m. local time.

Before it crashed, the plane jolted violently in mid-air. Passenger Muhammad Zubair thought it was turbulence. Then the pilot came on the intercom to warn the plane was experiencing engine trouble and the landing could be "troublesome."

In a telephone interview from his hospital bed, Zubair, one of only two survivors, told The Associated Press that Pakistan International Airlines flight PK8303 had taken off on time from the eastern city of Lahore at 1 p.m. It was a smooth, uneventful flight until the aircraft began its descent near Karachi.

Zubair said he survived by launched himself from the burning aircraft.

"When the plane caught fire. I unfastened my seatbelt and saw a light. I came out of the plane, I jumped from nearly 10 feet high," he said in a video interview with TRT World.

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Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the Airbus A230 was carrying 91 passengers and eight crew members. The only survivors of the crash were Zafar Masood, a bank executive, and Zubair, a mechanical engineer.

In a tweet Saturday, the Pakistan Armed Forces provided an update to its ongoing rescue operation.

"Rescue Op in progress by Army Search & Rescue Team, Army troops, Rangers & social welfare orgs. 97 bodies recovered. 2 passengers survived," it stated in the tweet. "25 affected houses cleared, their residents accommodated at various places with assistance of Civil Administration."

The 97 bodies recovered are believed to be passengers and crew members.

The plane crashed near Jinnah International Airport, in the poor, congested residential area known as Model Colony. PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafiz Khan said the aircraft destroyed or heavily damaged 18 homes.

After the crash, Zubair awoke in a scene of chaos. “I saw so much smoke and fire," he told the AP. "I heard people crying, children crying."

He dragged himself out of the rubble before someone pulled him into an ambulance.

Journalist Mansoor Ali Khan tweeted several images and videos of the wreckage shortly after the plane crashed.

In one video, people can be heard shouting in the street as a whistle blows, amid dangling power cords, black plumes of smoke and fire.

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Meeran Yousaf, the provincial Health Department spokeswoman, said 21 of the bodies from Friday's crash have been identified. Most were badly burned. Eight people on the ground were injured, including three who are still hospitalized. All residents are accounted for, she said.

Because of the condition of the victims' bodies, officials were relying on DNA testing to identify them, according to The New York Times.

Details about crash victims have emerged slowly

Pakistan had only earlier this week resumed domestic flights ahead of Eid-al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Many of the passengers aboard the flight were returning home for the holiday, said Science Minister Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry.

Between the coronavirus pandemic and the plane crash, this year has been a “catastrophe," he said.

“What is most unfortunate and sad is whole families have died, whole families who were traveling together for the Eid holiday,” he told The Associated Press.

Social media and local news reports said Zara Abid, an actor and model, was among those killed. A banker, his wife and three young children were also reportedly killed. Shabaz Hussein, whose mother died in the crash, told The Associated Press he identified her body at a local hospital and was waiting to take it away for burial.

Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March because of the coronavirus, and when flights resumed every other seat was left vacant to promote social distancing.

Southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, is the epicenter of Pakistan's outbreak, with nearly 20,000 of the country’s cases, according to the AP. Pakistan has upwards of 52,000 cases of coronavirus and about 1,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Rescue work in progress at the site of a plane crash in Karachi, Pakistan, May 22, 2020.
Rescue work in progress at the site of a plane crash in Karachi, Pakistan, May 22, 2020.

Pakistan to investigate cause of crash

Shortly after the crash, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan posted a statement to Twitter, promising an investigation.

"Immediate inquiry will be instituted," he wrote. "Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased."

Pakistan International Airlines Chairman Arshad Malik told reporters Friday in Karachi that an independent inquiry would be held. He said the aircraft was in good working order.

The aircraft's black box has been recovered and will be turned over to authorities, Khan told Reuters. The device contains flight data and a cockpit voice recording.

Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on Nov. 1. PIA’s chief engineer signed a certificate April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted and the aircraft met 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 the plane had logged 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flights as of Friday.

Airbus said it would provide technical assistance to investigators in France and Pakistan, as well as the airline and engine manufacturers.

Pakistan International Airlines: Flight crashes, with nearly 100 people on board

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 97 passengers, crew dead after Pakistan plane crash