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Jetliner With 99 Aboard Crashes Into Crowded Pakistani Neighborhood

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistan International Airlines plane with at least 99 people aboard crashed on Friday in a residential area near the airport in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, officials said.

The plane, Flight 8303, an Airbus A320, was en route from the eastern city of Lahore to Karachi and crashed at 2:37 p.m., officials said.

There were at least 91 passengers and eight crew members on board, Pakistani officials said. Nasir Hussain Shah, a provincial minister, said at least two people had survived the crash but had injuries.

Edhi Foundation, a charity that runs free ambulance and morgue service, said that the bodies of at least 35 passengers have been taken to the city’s two major government hospitals.

Officials said civil and military officials had begun a rescue operation.

Initial news reports said the plane had skidded off the rooftops of several houses in the neighborhood, called Model Colony, before bursting into flame. Several houses caught fire; thick plumes of smoke billowed up from the crash site. Local television networks showed images of charred rooftops and several vehicles on fire in the area.

Rizwan Khan, a political activist who is taking part in rescue operations, said that eight houses were completely damaged. “In the beginning, we tried to rescue the people, but because of severe heat, they could not do it,” he said.

Mr. Khan added that rescue teams from aviation and military reached on the site within the minutes because of its proximity of airport and military cantonment.

The pilot told the control tower that he was having technical difficulties, according to Air Vice Marshal Arshad Malik, the chief executive of Pakistan International Airlines, the national carrier. He said the airline was trying to determine what those difficulties were.

“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.”

An Airbus spokesman, Stefan Schaffrath, said the company was aware of the crash but had no details about the circumstances. Airbus expressed regret about the crash, and said in a statement that it was providing “full technical assistance” to the Pakistani authorities.

The A320 typically has around 180 seats. Airbus said in its statement that the plane that crashed had been in service since 2004 but with Pakistan International Airlines only since 2014, logged about 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flight cycles as of Friday.

Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on Nov. 1, 2019, The Associated Press reported. The airline’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate April 28 saying that all maintenance had been conducted. It said “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.

The crash happened days after Pakistan began allowing domestic flights to resume after a lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Model Colony is a busy, congested neighborhood nearly two miles from the Karachi airport.

Indian television channels showed large crowds packed into the neighborhood near the crash site, with people rushing toward ambulances as black smoke clogged the sky. One man carried a boy in his arms as he ran past journalists and emergency workers. Police officers and paramilitary rangers tried to disperse the crowds from the accident site.

The crash occurred as Muslims around the world were about to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a holiday dedicated to the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. News channels said many of the passengers had been traveling home to be with family for the holiday.

Syed Shibli Faraz, the Pakistani information minister, said the crash was “a very tragic incident just before Eid.” Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and saddened.”

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 Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed, killing 48 people, including a famous former pop singer.

By late afternoon on Friday, emergency workers had poured into the neighborhood near the crash site. Many parked cars had been destroyed.

Amjad Shah, who lives in the neighborhood, said he woke 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.

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from New Delhi, Zia-ur Rehman from Karachi and Stanley Reed from London.

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