Pakistan officials said Saturday they retrieved the flight-data recorder of the Airbus SE A320 jet that crashed into a residential neighborhood of Karachi, killing all but two people on board.
The search is still on for the voice recorder, said Abdul Sattar Khokhar, spokesman of the Civil Aviation Authority. The two recorders make up the so-called black box and store details of a plane’s path as well as its mechanical systems and computers.
Analysis of the devices may provide investigators clues why Flight PK 8303 decided to go-around for a second approach. The pilot also reported losing power from both engines before the crash, which killed 97 travelers on board the state-run Pakistan International Airlines Corp. aircraft en route from the northern city of Lahore.
“There was fire everywhere, and everyone was screaming after the crash. I opened my seatbelt, and headed toward the light,” Muhammad Zubair, another survivor, who was sitting in the eighth row, said on a local television broadcast.
Pakistan has set up a four-member panel, which will submit its report on the disaster in three months, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said in a televised briefing on Saturday.
The crash happened as the nation went into holidays to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, the annual Muslim festival. It also resulted in people getting injured on the ground as the plane plunged into a residential neighborhood, affecting 25 houses.
These houses have been cleared and their residents have been sheltered at various places, Pakistan army’s media wing called the Inter Services Public Relations said in a Twitter update on rescue work.
Television footage showed cars and homes on fire in the neighborhood near the airport in the nation’s commercial hub. The A320 narrow-body jet first entered service in 2004, and was operated by PIA since 2014, Airbus said.
The pilots in Friday’s crash reported losing power from both engines, according to a recording from LiveATC.net, which collects audio feeds from air-traffic controllers.
“Sir, we have lost engines,” the pilot said to a controller, according to the LiveATC recording. A distressed call followed about 30 seconds later: “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.”
It’s the second plane crash for the state-owned carrier in less than four years. Pakistan International’s chairman resigned in late 2016, less than a week after the crash of an ATR 42 turboprop killed 47 people.
“Although the public sector national carrier’s administration has been mismanaged for decades, this never reflected the engineering competence,” said Burzine Waghmar, a member of the Centre for the Study of Pakistan at SOAS University of London. “PIA’s maintenance and engineering is second to none.”
The airline, founded in 1946, suffered as many as 51 safety-related incidents before Friday’s crash, according to data from Aviation Safety Network.
The crashed A320 joined the airline six years ago and had a major check in March, according to a statement by the local Civil Aviation Authority. It carried out eight flights since March 21 after the nation restarted flights after easing its coronavirus related lockdown.
The jet was previously flown by China Eastern Airlines from 2004 until 2014, the Associated Press reported, citing ownership records. It was then added to PIA’s fleet under a lease from GE Capital Aviation Services, the AP said.
Airbus said it was providing technical assistance to France’s Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses and to Pakistani authorities in charge of the investigation. The company is working on getting a team to the crash site, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The coronavirus pandemic could complicate things as investigators traveling to the site would have to comply with local quarantine regulations unless they receive special exemptions. Pakistan will also form a four-member body to investigate, and expects to submit an initial statement within a month, its civil aviation authority said.
Engine manufacturer CFM International and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board are monitoring the situation, representatives for both said. CFM is a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Safran SA.
The A320’s pilot had reported a “technical fault” before deciding to go around instead of landing, the carrier’s chief Malik said in a video message before visiting the crash site. PIA is trying to determine what the technical fault was, Malik said, later adding that the aircraft was technically fit and had undergone safety checks.
A probe into Friday’s incident would be conducted soon, the nation’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter.
Photos purportedly taken of the plane after its initial attempt at landing appear to show damage to the underside of both engines, suggesting that its landing gear wasn’t down. The photos were posted on the Aviation Herald website.
“If the landing gear hadn’t deployed then the pilot would have dumped fuel before attempting to land,” said the airline regulator’s spokesman Khokhar. “We are not aware if he dumped fuel.”
One possibility is that the plane ran out of fuel while attempting to circle back to the runway to land, said Jeff Guzzetti, the former head of accident investigations at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
The plane clearly had enough power to climb again, so the engines were working in spite of any damage they may have sustained, said Guzzetti. Pictures from the scene show there was a fire, but it appears to have been less severe than what would be expected in a typical crash, which would suggest they were low on fuel, he said.
Guzzetti cautioned that it’s too early to say anything for certain. “You certainly don’t want to rule anything out,” he said. “We don’t know enough at this point.”
Pakistan recently began resuming domestic flights last week, starting with 20% of capacity. The crash comes at a terrible time for airlines, which are staring at a $314 billion loss in ticket sales this year, as the Coronavirus outbreak idles 70% of global capacity, IATA has said.
(With assistance by Khalid Qayum, Madeeha Khalid, Charlotte Ryan, Rajesh Kumar Singh, Siddharth Vikram Philip, Alan Levin, Ryan Beene, Ros Krasny, and Brendan Case.)
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