At least 40 dead bodies have been recovered after a Pakistani plane crashed with nearly 100 people on board in the southern city of Karachi yesterday, according to rescue officials, with dozens more feared dead.
The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane was close to landing when it came down among houses, sparking an explosion and killing several people on the ground.
"We have recovered 40 plus bodies so far," Major Mohammad Mansoor from the Pakistan Rangers, who was overseeing the rescue operation, told AFP.
Faisal Edhi, who heads the charitable Edhi Foundation that was assisting rescuers, gave a slightly higher figure saying at least 42 dead bodies had been recovered from the area.
"As per our estimates there are around 50 more dead bodies under the debris," he said in a live television broadcast.
At least two passengers survived the crash, according to Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, the information minister in Sindh province where Karachi is located.
Plumes of smoke were sent into the air as rescue workers and residents searched the debris for survivors and firefighters tried to extinguish the flames. An AFP reporter witnessed charred bodies being loaded into ambulances.
Seemin Jamali, a director from Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College in the city, said eight dead and 15 injured people had been brought to the facility.
"They were all from the ground, no (plane) passengers have been brought here," she said.
The plane had developed a technical fault, interior minister Ijaz Ahmad Shah said, adding that the pilot issued a mayday call after the craft lost an engine.
PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said there were 91 passengers and seven crew on board the flight, which lost contact with air traffic control just after 2.30pm (0930 GMT). An aviation authority spokesperson said the number of crew on board was eight.
"The aeroplane first hit a mobile tower and crashed over houses," witness Shakeel Ahmed said near the site, a few kilometres short of the airport.
The 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, according to the aircraft tracking website FlightRadar24.
The crash happened on the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid, when Pakistanis traditionally travel to visit relatives.
The plane was on its second attempt to land after cancelling a previous one in a routine manoeuvre known as a go-around, one person familiar with the investigation said.
The pilot told air traffic controllers he had lost power from both engines, according to a recording posted on liveatc.net, a widely respected aviation monitoring website.
"We are returning back, sir, we have lost engines," a man was heard saying in a recording released by the website. The controller freed up both the airport's runways but moments later the man called "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!".
There was no further communication from the plane, according to the tape, which could not immediately be authenticated.
Residents near the scene said their walls shook before a big explosion erupted as the aircraft slammed into their neighbourhood.
"I was coming from the mosque when I saw the plane tilting on one side. The engines' sounds were quite weird. It was so low that the walls of my house were trembling," said 14-year-old witness Hassan.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was "shocked and saddened" by the crash, tweeting that he was in touch with the state airline's chief executive.
"Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased," he wrote on Twitter.
Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.
In 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines 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 into land, killing all 152 people on board.