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Plane crashes in Pakistan with 99 on board, many feared dead

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A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane with 99 passengers and crew crashed into a residential area of the city of Karachi on Friday, with many feared dead, officials said.

Karachi

A PAKISTAN International Airlines (PIA) plane with 99 passengers and crew crashed into a residential area of the city of Karachi on Friday, with many feared dead, officials said.

Smoke billowed at the scene where flight PK 8303 came down, some roofs were caved in, and debris lay scattered in streets as ambulances rushed through chaotic crowds of people.

Seemin Jamali, a doctor at nearby Jinnah Hospital, confirmed to Reuters there were at least five corpses from the crash.

"The areoplane first hit a mobile tower and crashed over houses," witness Shakeel Ahmed said near the site, just a few kilometres short of the airport.

Amjad Shah, who lives in the neighborhood, said he woke from his sleep when he heard a sound "like a bomb exploding." He said that security officers were trying to move people away from the crash site, but were "facing huge difficulties" because of the crowds and the narrow streets.

The jet, which tracking website FlightRadar24.com identified as a 15-year-old Airbus A320, was flying from the eastern city of Lahore to Karachi in the south just as Pakistan was resuming domestic flights in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The A320 typically has around 180 seats.

The pilot had told the control tower that he was having technical difficulties, according to Air Vice Marshal Arshad Malik, chief executive of the national carrier.

He said that the airline was trying to determine what those difficulties were. "The pilot was told that both runways were ready for him to land," he told a Pakistani TV channel.

"However, the pilot decided to do a go-around. Why did he do that, due to what technical reason, that we will find out."

The crash happened just days after Pakistan began allowing domestic flights to resume, after a lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

An Airbus spokesman, Stefan Schaffrath, said the company was aware of reports about the crash but had no details.

One senior civil aviation official told Reuters it appeared the plane was unable to open its wheels due to a technical fault prior to landing, but it was to early to determine the cause.

PM promises inquiry

Pakistan's army and rescue services rushed to the site, which appeared to be a densely populated area. Several cars were on fire, footage showed.

Pakistan has a troubled recent history of air disasters. The deadliest was in 2010, when an Airbus flying from Karachi crashed into some hills, killing all 152 on board. In 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed, killing 48 people, including a famous former pop singer.

"Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash. Am in touch with PIA CEO Arshad Malik, who has left for Karachi & with the rescue & relief teams on ground as this is the priority right now," tweeted Prime Minister Imran Khan. "Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased."

Syed Shibli Faraz, the Pakistani information minister, said the crash was "a very tragic incident just before Eid." REUTERS, NYTIMES

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