AT the time of writing, rescuers were going through the debris of the PIA Airbus which crashed in Karachi on Friday, looking for survivors and, possibly, clues that could indicate the cause of the disaster.

Hopes of saving some lives were raised because of the miraculous escape of at least two passengers.

The PIA flight from Lahore was carrying 91 passengers and eight crew.

The evidence so far shows that the plane ran into trouble moments from its destination.

Capt Sajjad Gul lost contact with ground control when his aircraft was hovering around 150m.

Soon afterwards, the aircraft — which could have been carrying many more passengers had a Covid-19 social-distancing regime not been in place — crashed close to the Jinnah International Airport.

That the aircraft hit a residential area, causing mayhem on the ground, has added to the tragedy.

Consequently, as people tried to get an idea of the number of dead and injured on the plane and their names, there were also inquiries about those who were not travelling on the plane but whose dwellings had been hit.

The fact that the plane crashed in a neighbourhood raises a crucial question: do houses and buildings situated so close to a busy aircraft landing spot in the country meet the legal requirements.

Or have they been allowed to mushroom in typical Pakistani manner, with the buyers of the built property paying less because of the risk they courted on a daily basis? Perhaps more urgently asked were the questions relating to the condition of the aircraft.

True to form and post-haste, pure speculation masquerading as analyses was proudly paraded before a stunned audience.

This was yet more proof of our tendency to jump to conclusions before all the facts are known.

The aircraft was unfit, said some. Others added that the entire PIA fleet was obsolete.

There was some observations that were more to the point such as the possibility of a malfunctioning landing gear or a bird hit.

But in a country not known for releasing inquiry reports into air crashes, the eagerness to pass judgement was most painful.

The trophy went to none other than the PIA chief who stood ‘reassuringly’ outside an aircraft that was to apparently fly him to the site of the crash and provided his first impressions about what might have happened immediately before the crash.

He said the pilot was told that the runways were clear for landing, wondering why the captain decided to make another circle before approaching it.

One hopes that this was not an insinuation that the crash occurred due to pilot error.

That may or may not have been the case, but speculation will not help matters.

We will only know what happened when the aviation authorities conduct a thorough inquiry into the tragedy — and make their report public.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2020

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