KARACHI, Pakistan — The Friday afternoon flight was supposed to be a happy sign that Pakistan was moving past the coronavirus and inching toward normalcy, with families set to reunite after two months in lockdown to spend the Eid al-Fitr holiday together.
The plane was filled with military officers, executives and bankers headed from the eastern city of Lahore to Karachi, a sprawling port city in Pakistan’s south. But it ran into trouble as it tried to land, crashing into a residential neighborhood, killing at least 80 of the 99 people onboard, damaging eight homes and injuring seven residents, officials said.
Instead of congratulations to the nation, Pakistan’s prime minister had to offer his condolences.
Now, many of the families of passengers on the flight, Pakistan International Airlines 8303, will spend the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan mourning the loss of their loves ones.
AREA OF PLANE CRASH
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At least 91 passengers and eight crew members were on board. At least two people survived the crash but had injuries, including fractures and burns. Most of the bodies have not been identified, their cadavers badly charred from the fire that consumed the airplane.
The authorities will have to use DNA samples to identify the victims. Relatives were asked to come to hospitals to give their DNA to find matches, said Murtaza Wahab, a spokesman for the Sindh government, Karachi’s host province.
“The number of dead,” he said in an interview, “will keep going up.”
The plane, an Airbus A320, crashed at 2:37 p.m., officials said, after turning around on its first approach to the airport. Descending a second time, it clipped the rooftops of several houses in the nearby Model Colony neighborhood, where it crashed in a narrow street.
The pilot reported having lost engines, before declaring “mayday, mayday.”
Thick plumes of smoke billowed from the crash site, according to images on local television, which showed charred rooftops, the gnarled, blackened remains of the airplane and several burning houses and vehicles.
Nadir Butt, an engineer with a mobile phone company, was driving to the airport to pick up a colleague when he saw an airplane with the P.I.A. logo crash. His colleague, Dilshah Ahmed, had asked Mr. Butt to take him to his home in Karachi so he could spend the Eid holiday with his wife and children — an 8-month-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
“He was excited to celebrate Eid with his family after being separated for two months under lockdown,” said Mr. Butt, interviewed outside one of the hospitals where the bodies were taken.
“When I saw the plane going down in the neighborhood, I started calling his phone but it was dead,” Mr. Butt said in tears.
Instead of continuing to the airport, Mr. Butt sped to the scene of the crash and saw residents and rescue workers pulling bodies from the smoldering remains of the plane and the rubble of houses.
“We have not found his body so far,” Mr. Butt said at one point. “There is still more hell for us to go through.”
Nearly 11 hours after the crash, Mr. Butts got confirmation that Mr. Ahmed was dead.
As news of the crash emerged, relatives and friends of the passengers and crew rushed to the crash site and to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, the city’s largest state-run hospital, where most of the bodies were taken. Some lined up to give their DNA samples as they waited for a list of the dead. The Sindh health ministry said 80 bodies had been brought to hospitals.
“Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a Twitter post. “Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”
As night set in, the recovery efforts were complicated by darkness. Flood lights were installed to aid rescue efforts, said Mr. Wahab, of the Sindh government.
Model Colony, the scene of the crash, is a neighborhood crammed with houses and winding, narrow streets. Several survivors and bodies were trapped under the rubble and the rescue operation could take two to three days to complete, Arshad Malik, the chief executive officer of P.I.A., said at a news conference.
Rizwan Khan, who was taking part in the rescue operation, said workers were struggling to get into the damaged homes to search for survivors. “In the beginning, we tried to rescue the people, but because of severe heat, they could not do it,” he said.
The pilot of the aircraft was “a senior-most A320 pilot with extensive flight experience,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Aviation. The plane was 16 years old, was in good condition and underwent its last checkup in March, the ministry said.
As he was trying to land, the pilot told the control tower that he was having technical difficulties, according to Mr. Malik, adding that the airline was trying to determine the nature of the problem.
“The pilot was told that both runways were ready for him to land,” Mr. Malik told a Pakistani TV channel. “However, the pilot decided to do a go-around. Why did he do that, due to what technical reason, that we will find out.”
A recording of the pilot radioing in to the control tower as he tried to land circulated among Pakistani media and was confirmed as authentic by officials.
“Sir, we are proceeding back. We have lost engines,” the pilot said in the recording.
After the control tower told the pilot he was clear to land, the reply came in: “mayday, mayday.”
An Airbus spokesman, Stefan Schaffrath, said the company was aware of the crash but had no details about the circumstances. In a statement, Airbus said it was providing “full technical assistance” to the Pakistani authorities.
The crash happened days after Pakistan allowed domestic flights to resume after a lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Pakistan has a troubled recent history of air disasters. The deadliest was in 2010, when an Airbus flying from Karachi crashed into hills, killing all 152 on board. In 2016, a P.I.A. plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed, killing 48 people, including a former pop singer.
Amjad Shah, who lives in the neighborhood, said he awoke when he heard a sound “like a bomb exploding.” He said that security officers were trying to move people away from the crash site, but were “facing huge difficulties” because of the crowds and the narrow streets.
Zia ur-Rehman reported from Karachi, Salman Masood reported from Islamabad and Maria Abi-Habib from Los Angeles, Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from New Delhi and Stanley Reed from London.