AP-BLD, the aircraft involved in the accident, in 2016
|Date||22 May 2020|
|Summary||Aircraft crashed after a missed approach; under investigation|
|Site||Model Colony, near Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, Pakistan |
|Total injuries||10 (2 onboard, 8 on ground)|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A320-214|
|Operator||Pakistan International Airlines|
|IATA flight No.||PK8303|
|ICAO flight No.||PIA8303|
|Call sign||Pakistan 8303|
|Flight origin||Allama Iqbal International Airport, Lahore, Pakistan|
|Destination||Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, Pakistan|
Pakistan International Airlines Flight 8303 was a scheduled domestic flight from Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore to Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan. On 22 May 2020, the Airbus A320 crashed in Model Colony, a densely populated residential area of Karachi a few kilometres from the runway, while on a second final approach to Jinnah International Airport, after a failed landing. There were 91 passengers and eight crew on board the aircraft. Ninety-seven of them were killed, while two passengers survived with injuries. Eight people on the ground were also injured.
The flight, piloted by captain Sajjad Gul and first officer Usman Azam, took off from Lahore shortly after 1:00 p.m. and was near the end of its 90-minute journey, when it crashed at around 2:45 p.m.(09:45 UTC) into the densely-populated neighbourhood of Model Colony around 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) from the airport. The aircraft's wings were reported as being on fire in the moments before the plane crashed into rooftops. The crash damaged buildings in the area, some of which caught fire. The crash was captured on video by a CCTV camera, which shows the aircraft just before crashing into the neighbourhood.
The pilot had made an initial aborted landing attempt. He later radioed air traffic control (ATC) reporting landing gear issues and the failure of both engines. ATC confirmed to the pilot that he was cleared to use either of the airport's two runways, requesting, "Confirm your attempt on belly?" According to PIA's CEO, Arshad Malik, a technical fault prompted the pilot to make a go-around rather than land, even though both runways were available to him. The pilot told the controller, "we are returning back, sir, we have lost engines". Twelve seconds later, he declared a mayday emergency, which was the final communication with the aircraft.
According to officials from Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), complications had arisen during the aircraft's first descent. The landing gear was still in the retracted position when the aircraft attempted its first landing. Friction marks on the runway suggested there had been some ground contact; at the runway's 1,400-metre (4,500 ft) mark, the plane's left engine is believed to have scraped the runway, while at the 1,700-metre (5,500 ft) mark, the right engine made contact. When the pilot went around, it is believed damage had already been caused to both engines from this contact, leading to engine failure after the go-around. This, in turn, made it impossible for the aircraft to maintain altitude, causing it to crash during its return to the airfield. This is supported by the conversation between the aircraft and air traffic control which indicates that the aircraft was constantly losing altitude. Observers noted that the plane's backup ram air turbine was engaged, the purpose of which is to supply power to the aeroplane's control systems when both engines have failed.
The narrow streets and alleys comprising the area inhibited the rescue services. ISPR, the Pakistani military's media wing, reported that special forces of the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Rangers had set up a cordon. Video footage of the crash scene showed emergency teams trying to reach the scene amid the rubble, clouds of black smoke and flames in the background.
Residents said it is not uncommon for aircraft on final approach to pass so close to building rooftops that they "feel ... we can touch it", given the proximity of the runways. Jinnah Airport is surrounded by urban areas on all sides save for the north side, which leads to a scenario very similar to San Diego or Kai Tak with jets having to pass low over urban buildings before landing on one of the two runways. Edhi Foundation's Faisal Edhi said at least 25 houses suffered damage due to the crash. PIA's spokesman Abdullah Hafiz Khan has said that 18 houses were destroyed or badly damaged. According to a witness statement collected by Reuters, the plane hit a mobile phone tower in the vicinity of the airport as it crashed.
The aircraft was an Airbus A320-214, which was built in 2004 and owned by GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS). It took its maiden flight on 17 August 2004 and was leased to China Eastern Airlines as B-6017 between 2004 and 2014. It was then leased to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) by GECAS on 31 October 2014, with registration AP-BLD. It was powered by CFM56-5B4/P engines, which were most recently installed in February and May 2019. The landing gear was installed in October 2014 and was next due for servicing and replacement after 10 years leased.
The PIA's engineering department reported that the last routine maintenance check on the plane was conducted on 21 March 2020, while the most comprehensive check was last performed on 19 October 2019, during which no defects were found in its engines, landing gear or avionics. From 22 March to 7 May 2020, the plane had remained grounded owing to flight cancellations amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. From 7 May onward, the plane had conducted six flights. The Civil Aviation Authority had declared the aircraft fit for flight until 5 November. The plane had operated a flight from Muscat to Lahore on the day prior to the accident. The aircraft had logged 47,124 flight hours.
Pakistan International Airlines released details of the flight manifest which shows 91 passengers (51 men, 31 women, and 9 children); there were also eight crew members. The death toll was confirmed as 97, consisting solely of those on board the plane. One of the passengers was an American citizen. The Pakistani model and actress Zara Abid was one of the flight's passengers. Five officers from the Pakistan Army and one from the Pakistan Air Force were also among the victims.
Meeran Yousaf, the spokesman of Sindh Health Department, has said eight residents of the Model Colony were injured in the crash and most victims' corpses had suffered burns. Most of the injured were women and children. Faisal Edhi said 25–30 people were hospitalised, mostly due to burns. No one in the colony has been reported to have been killed in the crash, though earlier a hospital had claimed receiving dead bodies of those killed on the ground.
The Sindh Minister of Health and Population Welfare declared a state of emergency for Karachi's hospitals, while Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered all available resources to the crash site, as did the chief of staff of the Pakistan Air Force. Khan also announced an inquiry, while PIA was reported to have shut down its website. The President, Arif Alvi, tweeted condolences "to the families of the deceased". Public figures across Pakistan expressed their sadness and shock at the incident. Many international leaders and celebrities also sent their condolences.
Pakistan had allowed domestic flights to resume, following suspension during the COVID-19 pandemic, six days earlier on 16 May.[note 1] Since the crash occurred during the last days of Ramadan, many people were expected to travel to celebrate Eid al-Fitr with their families. The pandemic had already stretched the healthcare resources of the city and the crash intensified the burden. Consequently, one of the two survivors was moved to a public hospital in the city centre instead of hospitals closer to the crash site.
Airbus announced they are providing assistance to the investigation. Subsequently an 11-member Airbus team visited the crash site on 26 May. Following the crash, the flight data recorder (FDR) was found but the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) is still missing. The Flight Data recorder was handed over to the inquiry board, and eventually given to the Airbus investigation team which will take it to France for decoding.
Ghulam Sarwar Khan, the federal minister for the Aviation Division, said that the full results of the inquiry would be made available within three months. A preliminary investigation report, published by the CAA, was reported to have said that the engines had scraped the runway three times on the pilot's first attempt to land, causing friction and sparks. The contacts with the runway may have caused possible damage to the engines' oil tank and fuel pump.
The pilot had a flying experience of 18,000 flight hours. The Economic Times reported that the pilot had reportedly ignored warnings from air traffic control about the height and speed of the aircraft on approach. At 2:30 pm the plane was 15 nautical miles from Karachi, at Makli, flying at an altitude of 10,000 feet instead of the recommended 7,000 feet, when ATC issued its first warning to reduce altitude. Instead of descending, the pilot responded by saying that he was satisfied with the altitude. When only 10 nautical miles from the airport, the aircraft was at an altitude of 7,000 feet instead of 3,000 feet. ATC issued a second warning to descend. The pilot responded again by stating that he was satisfied and able to handle the situation, and that he was prepared for landing.