(AFP)— A Pakistani passenger plane with nearly 100 people on board crashed into a residential area of the southern city of Karachi on Friday.
The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane was close to landing when it came down among houses, sending plumes of smoke into the air that could be seen from some distance away.
Rescue workers and local residents pulled people from the debris, as firefighters tried to put out the flames.
“I heard a big bang and woke up to people calling for the fire brigade,” said Karachi resident Mudassar Ali.
PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said there were 91 passengers and seven crew on board the flight, which lost contact with air traffic control just after 2:30 pm (0930 GMT).
“It is too early to comment on the cause of the crash,” he said.
Abdul Sattar Khokhar, of the country’s aviation authority, said the Airbus A320 was travelling from Lahore to Karachi.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and saddened” by the crash, tweeting that he was in touch with the state airline’s chief executive.
“Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased,” said Khan.
Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the plane crashed into a residential area minutes before it was due to land.
The disaster comes as Pakistanis across the country are preparing to celebrate the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, with many travelling back to their homes in cities and villages.
The Pakistan military said security forces had been deployed to the area and helicopters were being used to survey the damage and help ongoing rescue operations, while offering condolences over the “loss of precious lives” in the incident.
Commercial flights resumed only days ago, after planes were grounded during a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.
Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years.
In 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people.
The deadliest air disaster on Pakistani soil was in 2010, when an Airbus A321 operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi crashed into the hills outside Islamabad as it came into land, killing all 152 people on board.
An official report blamed the accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere.
PIA, one of the world’s leading airlines until the 1970s, now suffers from a sinking reputation due to frequent cancellations, delays and financial troubles. It has been involved in numerous controversies over the years, including the jailing of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013.