Clockwise: This photo shows Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan (in black jacket) visits the site of the plane crash on Saturday along with Sindh Governor Imran Ismail (in blue jacket). The mother of Anam Maqsood, an air hostess victim of the plane crash, mourns along with other family members in Lahore. Relatives attend funeral prayer of a victim of the plane crash at Nazimabad Rizvia Society in Karachi. Relatives carry the body of a victim in an ambulance for burial.—AFP / PPI
Clockwise: This photo shows Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan (in black jacket) visits the site of the plane crash on Saturday along with Sindh Governor Imran Ismail (in blue jacket). The mother of Anam Maqsood, an air hostess victim of the plane crash, mourns along with other family members in Lahore. Relatives attend funeral prayer of a victim of the plane crash at Nazimabad Rizvia Society in Karachi. Relatives carry the body of a victim in an ambulance for burial.—AFP / PPI

• 21 bodies identified, handed over to families
• DNA tests of others being conducted
• Minister promises probe within three months

KARACHI: Except two survivors, all 97 passengers and crewmembers of the Pakistan International Airlines plane that crashed into a densely-populated area near Karachi airport on Friday were confirmed dead after their bodies were recovered during an operation, authorities said on Saturday.

They added that no resident of the Model Colony’s Jinnah Garden area, where the plane (PK-8303) had crashed with 99 on board, was among the dead. Some residents, however, had suffered burn wounds and were currently under treatment.

While all the bodies of the plane crash tragedy had been accounted for, removal of debris and the aircraft wreckage continued in the affected area.

At a press conference at the PIA headquarters, where Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan promised a transparent investigation into the plane crash, PIA chief executive Air Marshal Arshad Malik said 21 bodies had been handed over to the families for burial and the remaining bodies would be given to their legal heirs after identification through DNA tests.

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazl Pechuhu told a press briefing that DNA samples had been taken from all unidentified bodies and sent to a Karachi University laboratory. Samples of the relatives of some 47 victims had also been collected for a cross-match.

Confirming that bodies of 97 passengers of the ill-fated aircraft were found, she said that the victims included 26 women, 68 men and three children. She said 66 bodies were moved to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and 31 were brought to the Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK).

About the two survivors, Mohammad Zubair and Bank of Punjab President Zafar Masud, she said both were in stable condition. “Zubair with 39 per cent burns is under treatment at the CHK whereas Masud with fracture injuries is at Darul Sehat Hospital. The four victims, who received injuries on the ground, are also being treated for burns,” she said.

At the same presser, Sindh government’s spokesperson Murtaza Wahab said that 19 houses, 10 four-wheelers and three motorcycles were damaged in the crash.

Earlier in the morning, Inter-Services Public Relations chief Major General Babar Iftikhar tweeted that the rescue operation was in progress, 97 bodies were recovered and 25 affected houses cleared, with their residents being provided temporary accommodation at various places.

Inquiry reports to be made public

Aviation Minister Khan, who flew to Karachi from Islamabad, told the presser that the report of the investigation being conducted by the Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board would be completed in three months.

“We will try to complete this inquiry in three months. The government will make this investigation public as well as all the previous investigations of the aviation accidents,” the minister said referring to previous crashes in Havailian and other places whose reports were neither finalised nor officially released.

He said even he and the PIA chief would present themselves for accountability if the probe body found the ministry or the national carrier responsible.

The PIA chief clarified that his organisation would not influence the inquiry board and would provide all necessary documents that it required for investigation.

He said that being PIA head he would present for accountability anyone found responsible for any lapse in the inquiry report.

Compensation

Minister Khan said the pilot of the ill-fated aircraft tried his best to limit the damage. By bearing the cost of repair, the government would offer compensation to the area residents whose houses and cars had been damaged, he added. He promised that a survey to assess the damages caused to the area people would be conducted.

Earlier in the day, a PIA statement said that PIA usually paid Rs500,000 to the family of each victim for burial but on the special directive of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the PIA would pay Rs1 million in this case. “All expenses on burial would be paid by PIA’s district managers at the doorsteps of victims,” it added.

Airbus providing technical support

The aviation minister said that the inquiry had already begun and experts from Airbus, Germany and France would also join the probe.

He said that besides Safety Investigation Board’s investigators, PIA and Civil Aviation Authority’s officials were also separately investigating the matter.

The investigators had already got hold of the flight data recorder, commonly called black box, which was found from the crash site last night.

According to an Airbus statement posted on its website, the ill-fated A320, registration number AP-BLD, Manufacturer Serial Number 2274, first entered service in 2004 while the PIA had been operating it for past six years.

“It has been in operation with Pakistan International Airlines since 2014. The aircraft had logged around 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flight cycles. It was powered by CFM56-5B4/P engines,” it said, adding that Airbus was providing full technical assistance to Pakistani authorities in charge of the investigation. “Technical support is also being provided by PIA and engine manufacturer CFM.”

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2020