Zubair Muhammad’s wife and sons were waiting for her husband and their father at the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on Friday, expecting a family reunion in the Eid and a big bag of gifts Muhammad promised to bring from Lahore.
Muhammad flew to Lahore on Wednesday for his office work which had been long postponed due to suspension of flights amid COVID-19 lockdown. Before leaving, he hugged his younger son and told his family that he will be back on Friday with a bag full of Eid gifts for him and his sibling.
As planned, Muhammad, along with other 90 passengers and eight crew members, took flight PK-8303 bounded for Karachi from Lahore on Friday. The plane took off from the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore at 1:08 p.m. and was scheduled to land in Karachi after 105 minutes. At around 2:45 p.m., one or two minutes before its landing at Karachi, the flight crashed.
The reunion of the Muhammad’s broke. “My brother is no more, and his wife and older kid are grief-stricken. His younger son is only three years old, he doesn’t know much about the meaning of death, and is still waiting for his father to come back with the bag full of goodies as Eid gift,” Ilyas, Muhammad’s brother, told Xinhua.
Ilyas said that they have been looking through the bodies with a hope to identify the dear departed to save his wife and children from the agony of waiting for over three more weeks to get the body after identification, but they failed and had no choice to opt for DNA test.
The plane caught fire after crashing, burning most of the bodies inside beyond identification. Eyewitnesses from the Model Town Colony where the plane crashed told Xinhua that rescue teams could manage to reach at the crash site after 20 minutes due to traffic flow and congested streets in the colony, but the fire was so serious that it burnt the plane and the passengers inside to ashes when the help arrived.
Salman Qureshi, a rescuer with the Karachi based non-government organization Saylani Welfare Trust, was among the first ones who reached at the incident site. Qureshi, who has been working as a rescuer for the last 20 years, said that he has never witnessed such a horrific sight in his life.
“We were working with the firefighters to douse the blaze. The plane was quite big and it was burning badly, and several vehicles also caught fire because of it. Residents were in acute panic, some of them rushing out of their houses and others were injured,” Qureshi told Xinhua.
He said that several bodies were also scattered on the roof tops, and due to congested streets they shifted the bodies to the ambulances from the roofs of the houses, adding that except a few bodies most of them were “pieces of charcoal.” Finally, 97 bodies were found after the crash and two luckily escaped from the deadly crash.
Mareen Yousuf, media coordinator of the health minister of Sindh province, told Xinhua that 21 of the victims have been identified and handed over to relatives while identification of the rest is underway, adding that the health department has requested the families of the deceased to cooperate for DNA test to identify the remaining and it will take 21 days to identify the bodies through the test after which they will be handed over to the families.
Muhammad Zubair was also on board the ill-fated plane. He was also one of the two who miraculously survived the plane crash.
“The plane seemed OK, the weather was clear, and everyone in the plane might have thought to reach the destination to meet their loved ones with in the scheduled time. Everything was smooth until the plane unexpectedly took off again after a few jerks while attempting to land at the airport,” Zubair told Xinhua.
The passengers got panicked, as it became obvious that the plane has met some fault, but things seemed under control again when the pilot announced for the second time that they are going to land at the airport.
“There was a relief in the plane, because we were landing. The flight was smooth and the danger was apparently averted, but then all of a sudden something happened which I hate to recall. The plane falls down. An inferno followed. I couldn’t see anyone. There was fire everywhere,” he said.
Suddenly he saw the light somewhere in the plane, and for him it was like the light at the end of the tunnel, he managed to rush towards it, he himself doesn’t believe how he managed to do it, and finally he succeeded in jumping off the burning metal, about 10 feet down into the street.
Zubair was later shifted to a hospital with 30 percent burn injuries, but his condition was stable and the doctors discharged him on Sunday, the Eid day, which his travel fellows also wanted to celebrate with their families.
Yousuf told Xinhua that the second survivor, president of the Bank of Punjab, was sitting close to an emergency exit, and he controlled his nerves to quickly open the exit door after the plane crashed. And Zubair, who was sitting the back seat, saw the door opening and he restored his conscious and quickly jumped off the burning plane. The bank official got multiple fractures but his condition is stable, Yousuf said.
The plane fell in a 6-8 feet wide street with houses on both sides, while trying to land at the airport. Some aeronautical experts also said that it took the plane only 30 seconds to one minute more to land at the airport, but the pilot could not do it due to some defect in the plane.
Briefing media about the crash, Chief Executive Officer of Pakistan International Airlines Arshad Malik said that the plane was technically fit for flying and was given clearance for flying after fulfillment of all technical requirements.
He said that two runways were made available for the plane when the pilot told the air traffic control that he is ready to land, but rather than landing he went for another round in the air, and later told the traffic controller about some fault in the aircraft before the second landing attempt, but shortly after that it lost contact with the airport and crashed in the neighboring area.
Cause of the crash has not been determined yet, and the government has formed an investigation board to probe the incident, the country’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said.
A team from the aircraft’s makers on Monday have arrived in Karachi for investigation, and the plane’s black box will be sent for decoding to further help the probe, according to local reports.