KARACHI: Against the backdrop of photographs of the 97 lives lost in the PK-8303 crash, which happened on May 22, 2020 on the last Friday of last Ramazan, the relatives of the victims, still grieving over their losses, shared before jam-packed media at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday their pain. They are still awaiting justice.
The panaflex, which also had the heading ‘Never to be forgotten’, didn’t have photos of all the 97 victims. Some pictures were just outlines in small frames. They represented those who could not be identified to this day. At the bottom there was also written: ‘Innocent lives lost because of Pakistan International Airlines [PIA] and Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] negligence’.
There were the victims’ family members on the stage and in the audience as well. Some held printouts with the wording ‘Justice for PK8303 families’, some were reading from the Quran.
Providing a brief background about the fateful flight that never landed, Kanwal Arsalan, the sister of one of the victims Mirza Waheed Beg, said that she lost her only brother in the crash.
“The lockdown had left many lonely, many had to spend time away from their loved ones. But then there was Eid approaching and PIA was restarting its flights. The passengers of PK-8303 happily left their homes in Lahore to head for the airport, they were all so looking forward to be with their loved ones on Eid,” she said.
‘We have certain expectations from the government, PIA, CAA, courts and the cabinet’
“The flight took off from Lahore and was about to land at Karachi when its captain was informed by the air traffic control [ATC] that he was too shallow in his approach to which he replied ‘I’m comfortable’. And the control tower seemed okay with the answer. The pilot was never told to correct plane’s altitude. Then we all know what happened. It scraped the runway without opening its wheels, took off again to attempt landing again, and again. On the final try, the pilot finally realised that he couldn’t even reach the runway. And that’s when he cried ‘Mayday’, that’s when he crashed his plane into the buildings surrounding the airport,” the affectee reminded.
“Then as all hell broke loose and there was a huge fire, too, as a result of the crash, PIA and CAA due to whose carelessness the crash had happened were nowhere to be found. The fire blazed. We could only get charred pieces of our loved ones. But what is happening now?” she questioned.
Zarka Khalid Chaudhary, another affectee, whose father, Mohammad Saleem Aslam, died in the crash and whose widowed mother, who couldn’t handle her grief, also passed away within 21 days of the terrible tragedy, said that they are here addressing a press conference to inform the media about all that they have been facing afterwards and all that they want to see done to prevent such a tragedy in future.
“We have certain expectations from the government, PIA, CAA, courts and the cabinet. We don’t want anyone else to go through what we did. It is what helps us carry on with our mission,” she said.
Majority awaits insurance money
Another affectee Azmat Yar Khan said that he lost his brother and niece in the crash. “We want to make air travel safe first. But it is being said about us that we want money or compensation. This crash has brought 97 families together. Yes, there are some among us who have lost their breadwinners and are under severe strain but still they have turned down the compensation because it is being offered on a condition of forgoing our right to question the crash and the circumstances that led to it,” he said.
“Only 36 affectees were paid compensation and most of them are the families of the PIA crew that also lost their lives in the crash. We are asking for the insurance money, which is also our right as we lost loved ones. But we are told that we can only get even that after signing some papers that say that we won’t ask any more questions afterwards. It has not even been found out as yet whether the crash was an accident or the result of carelessness or anything else, and we are being asked to sign such papers. All passengers who lost their lives, their families are entitled to a fixed amount, their families are also entitled to damages due to loss of their luggage but we are being pushed into a maze where they throw all kinds of hurdles of confusing laws before us. They are asking us to agree to illegal things,” he complained.
“There are so many things that have been happening to us that are wrong. PIA still has the luggage of the passengers, which they have kept with it. But our relatives’ belongings are keepsakes for us, which they don’t realise. There are some passengers’ families whose DNA test results have still not been given to them, even though Punjab Forensics has the results of the same samples within hours,” he added.
Another affectee, Dr Mohammad Mohsin Aman, said the most concerning among the conditions laid out before they can accept the compensation or insurance money is the clause that says you cannot question the findings of the crash investigations or challenge them in any court of law.
“But you tell us, when there is no punishment for carelessness or any other wrongdoing then how can you prevent the wrong from happening again? If the ATC was at fault, then see to it that this kind of thing does not happen again,” he said.
He also laid before the media three main demands: “Firstly, we want to see the Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board’s procedure to be reconstituted. We want to see investigation done in a better way and not like how it is being handled right now. Second, we want the amount that is our right disbursed without any conditions. We are not greedy people, but we also have our needs, especially those among us who lost an earning family member in the crash. The insurance money is our right anyway, compensation comes later. And third, we want an emergency response centre at the airport that should be active 24 hours.”
“Here after the crash, we were all left to run around in circles trying to find out about the casualties, the survivors, the injured and where they were being taken,” he added.
Junaid Hamid, an affectee of the Airblue crash of 2010, and who has now formed the Airblue Crash Affectees Association, said that Pakistan has the highest rate of aviation disasters for the last 10 years. “This is not normal. There must be a reason for it. Who’s at fault,” he questioned.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2021