Survivor recalls horror of Pakistan plane crash that killed 97

Pakistan's Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Awana (C-L in black jacket) visits the crash site a day after a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft crashed in a residential area in Karachi. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Survivor recalls horror of Pakistan plane crash that killed 97

  • Two people survived the crash that claimed the lives of 97
  • Pakistan has a chequered history of military and civilian aviation, with a number of serious incidents taking place in recent memory

KARACHI: One of the two people to survive a plane crash in Pakistan that killed 97 people on board has described jumping from the burning wreckage of the aircraft after it hurtled into a residential neighbourhood.
The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane came down among houses on Friday after both engines failed as it approached Karachi airport, the airline said.
Its wings sliced through rooftops, sending flames and plumes of smoke into the air as it crashed onto a street, sparking a rescue operation that lasted until the early hours of Saturday.
The 97 victims had been on the plane, the provincial health ministry said, while four people on the ground were injured after earlier reports on Friday suggested some residents had been killed by the crash.
Pakistan’s deadliest aviation accident in eight years came days after commercial flights resumed ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr.
Planes had been grounded during a two-month lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“After it hit and I regained consciousness, I saw fire everywhere and no one was visible,” passenger Mohammad Zubair, 24, said from his hospital bed in a video clip circulated on social media.
“The cries were everywhere and everybody was trying to survive. I undid my seat belt and I saw some light and tried to walk toward it. Then I jumped out.”
Zubair had suffered burns but was in a stable condition, a health ministry official said.
The airline named the other survivor as the president of the Bank of Punjab, Zafar Masud.
At least 19 bodies had been identified, while 47 relatives had come forward to provide DNA samples for tests.
The first funerals were also underway, with many more to come.
“He was supposed to come last Friday but had to postpone,” said Jehanzeb Baloch at the burial of his nephew, Major Shaheryar Baloch, who died along with his wife and two children.
The family had been returning to Karachi for the Eid holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Several members of the armed forces were on the plane, the military said.
“Eid has become meaningless not only for Karachi but the whole of Pakistan,” said Zia ul Huq Qamar, who lives near the crash site.
Shahbaz Hussain said his mother, who was also among the victims, had been flying back to Karachi after becoming stranded by the lockdown in Lahore while visiting her daughters.

A PIA spokesperson said air traffic control lost contact with the plane traveling from Lahore to Karachi just after 2:30 p.m. (0930 GMT).
The pilot made a desperate mayday call after announcing “we have lost engines,” according to an audio recording confirmed by the airline.
PIA chief executive Arshad Mahmood Malik described the Airbus A320 as one of the safest planes.
“Technically, operationally everything was in place,” he said, promising an investigation.
On board the aircraft were 91 passengers, six cabin crew and two pilots.
Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said the captain, Sajjad Gull, had been described by the airline as a senior A320 pilot with extensive flight experience.
“The pilot did his best to bring the plane to the runway and tried hard to contain damages,” Khan said Saturday.
“There will be fair inquiry to put forth facts immediately before the public and parliament.”
The plane first entered service in 2004 and was acquired by PIA a decade later, Airbus said in a statement. It had logged around 47,100 flight hours.

Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.
Friday’s crash was the deadliest since 2012 when a Boeing 737 passenger plane owned by Bhoja Air crashed near Islamabad killing all 127 on board.
In 2016, a PIA plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people.
The deadliest air disaster on Pakistani soil was in 2010 when an Airbus A321 operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi crashed into the hills outside Islamabad as it came in to land, killing all 152 people on board.
An official report blamed the accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere.
PIA, a leading airline until the 1970s, has seen its reputation sink due to frequent cancelations, delays and financial troubles.


Afghanistan says long-awaited Intra-Afghan talks expected in two weeks 

Updated 01 June 2020

Afghanistan says long-awaited Intra-Afghan talks expected in two weeks 

KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban delegates are expected to begin online talks in mid-June in a bid to end a decades-old conflict in the country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

While past meetings have been held in person, the latest round of negotiations will take place online because of the threat of coronavirus in the war-ravaged country.

“We see no challenges, the atmosphere and preparations are all set for the talks,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, newly appointed chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Arab News.

Negotiations could begin in “the next 10 or 15 days,” he said.

“The announcement of a cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners were all requirements for the start of the talks, and we have had progress on them recently,” Khawzoon said.

On Wednesday the Afghan government released a list of 20 delegates due to hold peace talks with the Taliban.

The team will be led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a former spy chief who has held indirect negotiations with the militants in the past outside Afghanistan, he added.

In the lead-up to the talks, President Ashraf Ghani’s government will release 3,000 more Taliban prisoners, an official close to the Afghan leader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

More than 2,000 Taliban inmates have already been freed as part of a historic peace deal in February.

In return, the Taliban released hundreds of government troops and, in a surprise move, announced a three-day cease-fire last week for Eid Al-Fitr.

The peace moves follow a buildup in fighting between the two sides despite the pandemic. Taliban attacks killed at least 146 people and injured 430 during Ramadan. 

Fears had been growing that the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 between the Taliban and the US would collapse.

The joint cease-fire followed talks in Qatar last week between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad later traveled to Kabul for meetings with Afghan political leaders over a reduction in violence and an exchange of prisoners. 

“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a cease-fire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government reciprocating and announcing its own,” Khalilzad said last Sunday.

Increasing Taliban attacks on government troops, and political infighting between Ghani and Abdullah over who would assume office as president, have delayed the talks.

After Washington failed to reconcile Ghani and Abdullah, both leaders agreed two weeks ago to share power, with Ghani leading the country for another five years and Abdullah appointed as chief of the peace talks.

Khalilzad described the cease-fire agreement as a “momentous opportunity that should not be missed,” and pressed both sides to agree on a new date to start negotiations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged the two sides to start peace talks, with the release of prisoners as a first step. 

Pompeo said that he expected the Taliban “to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield.”

Ghani said the release of Taliban inmates would be “expedited” and that his government’s negotiating team was ready to begin talks “as soon as possible.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not be reached for comment on the Taliban’s stance.

In the past, the group has insisted it will take part in talks with Kabul only after all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are freed.

Experts hope the latest developments are a step in the right direction.

“The Taliban do not seem to have any reservations about the structure of the government team, so the hope is high that the talks will take place by June 15,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Some of Taliban’s field commanders seem to be divided on the talks, hoping to capture power again after the departure of US forces (by next spring), while the political leaders are pushing for a political settlement,” he said.