THE rumble of jet engines prompts you to instinctively glance heavenwards, just in time to see the source of the sound fly directly over you. The heart skips a beat, I’m not going to lie. And the same thing happens every 10, 20 minutes or so. But then, every plane isn’t PK-8303, you reassure yourself.
It’s been two years since I was last in Jinnah Garden to cover the tragic crash; on May 22, 2020, a PIA Airbus A-320 crashed here following several failed attempts at landing at the Jinnah International Airport.
Jinnah Garden, a small township of 120 to 240 square yards houses, mostly occupied by PIA employees or ex-PIA employees, is very close to the airport. Too close for comfort, one might say.
The main street presents a picture of calm and quiet, a stark contrast to the images stuck in my mind. Flashbacks of chaotic scenes, black smoke and a sickening smell; people running around, ambulance sirens and broken down walls to make way for stretchers.
But now, two years on, the broken walls have been rebuilt. The damaged houses, too sport fresh plaster. But some things can’t go back to normal.
“The entire fuselage lay burning in our narrow street, and a part of the wing and engine had sliced through our home. killing our 12-year-old maid Naheeda,” recalls Syed Abdul Rafay.
Naheeda’s two cousins, Mahira and Aziza were injured, while seven to eight other children who were also at home at the time luckily remained unhurt.
“The two girls needed to be rushed to a hospital, but there was smoke and fire everywhere turning daylight into pitch darkness,” he recalls.
Mohammad Abrar, another resident of Street No 1, says that he was just leaving the mosque after Friday prayers when all hell broke loose. “It was the last Friday of Ramazan. I remember being engulfed by black smoke on my way back from the mosque. I did manage to get to a part of the plane to pull out a few people, but sadly, they had no life left in them. I still remember that stench of burning flesh,” he says.
Street No 1 of Jinnah Garden is a dead-end street, but there is a narrow gate between two schools that leads one into a thin alleyway, which opens into a back street.
Mohammad Majid, who lives on the back street was also badly shaken that day.
“I was at home when I heard the first explosion and then the walls and windows shook. I ran in the direction of Street 1 and saw that all the houses there had their windows blown out. Some were crumbling. And in the middle of all of this, one bewildered survivor dragged himself out of the plane. He turned out to be the CEO of the Bank of Punjab, one of only two survivors,” he says.
While speaking to Majid, I notice some Suzuki pickups pulling up in the back street. They are contractual rides for the maids who work in the neighbourhood houses. The maids are chatting animatedly as they squat on the broad footpaths outside the schools, waiting for other maids to arrive. When I ask if any of them knew the young maid who lost her life, they point to a middle-aged woman seated in the front of one of the pickups. “That’s Naheeda’s mother Noor Bano,” one of them says.
“I have returned to work only last week,” Noor Bano tells me after we introduce ourselves.
“I was paid Rs1 million in compensation by the government. Now that it has all finished, I am back to work,” she shrugs. “My two other relatives, Aziza and Mahira, were also with Naheeda at the time. They too got badly injured. They were both paid half of what I was given in compensation, but their wounds have not healed completely. Mahira’s hands and feet have deformed. Aziza is back at work, but she also carries scars,” Noor Bano informs. To illustrate her point, Aziza, who is with her, shows us some of her scars.
Rafay relates how many residents of Street No 1 had to move away for some months to make way for repair work and reconstruction in the area.
“Most houses had lost their top floors. We had pretty much lost our entire house. Still, we try to put the nightmare behind us though some of our children still remain traumatised. Every time a plane flies over, my little cousin turns to us with big terrified eyes. We live so near to the airport. We can’t stop the planes and the sound of the planes won’t let him forget.”
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2022