KARACHI: It happened in the blink of an eye. One moment, the aircraft was up in the sky, the next, it nosedived to the ground, crashing over houses in Model Colony’s congested Jinnah Garden, a neighbourhood near Jinnah International Airport, around half past two on Friday afternoon.
Residents said their walls shook before an explosion reverberated through the air as the Pakistan International Airlines aircraft, travelling from Lahore to Karachi, slammed into their neighbourhood.
The air soon reverberated with the cries of the residents as a fireball rose into the air.
When dust settled over the ruins of the disaster, those who had survived the catastrophe reeled from the shock of the sudden tragedy. Fire erupted at various spots in the neighbourhood’s streets and plumes of smoke turned the sky a dark shade of grey.
The aircraft’s wreckage was sprawled across two or three streets and bodies lay on the streets and the crumbling rooftops of houses.
According to accounts shared by eyewitnesses, the aircraft’s wheels and landing gear bounced off the houses’ walls in the areas, before falling far off.
“The crash rocked the entire neighbourhood,” said one among them. “We had just finished offering Friday prayers at the mosque when we heard the explosive sound and perplexed, we rushed to the place of the incident,” he told The Express Tribune.
Another eyewitness, Hassan, who said he was among the first few to reach the site of the incident, said, “There was debris and fire everywhere. We couldn’t breathe properly due to the smoke.”
“It was like doomsday,” said Aslam, who lives near the destroyed neighbourhood. “The entire street was in ruins,” he added.
“I was coming from the mosque when I saw the plane tilting on one side. The engines’ sounds were quite weird. It was so low that the walls of my house were trembling,” said a 14-year-old witness.
Another resident, Mudassar Ali, said he “heard a big bang and woke up to people calling for the fire brigade.”
Around half a dozen houses were completely demolished and the upper storeys of most houses were severely damaged, with their balconies uprooted as well.
As rubble piled up, the entrance to many houses was blocked and as per the initial estimate, at least 15 houses were damaged under the impact of the crash. In addition, over 20 vehicles and several motorcycles parked in the streets were wrecked.
Electricity poles hit the ground too, badly affecting the electricity and communication network in the area. And soon after the crash, the electricity supply to the neighbourhood was suspended and the area was cordoned off. Besides, debris also blocked the street most affected by the crash.
Cutting through the clamour was the humming noise of a helicopter hovering over the area for surveillance. And amid that cacophony and confusion, there were efforts to help the victims.
While firefighters, law enforcement personnel, including Rangers and police, and rescue workers continued to carry out rescue operations, area residents also contributed in efforts to shift bodies, as they made their way through the debris in the hopes of finding survivors.
According to Hassan, he, along with other area residents had already shifted multiple bodies and injured to ambulances before rescue personnel reached the spot.
Aslam, too, said that he and a few others had somehow managed to enter the collapsed houses and rescue some of the injured, with few among the suffering severe burn injuries.
“Smoke and suffocation made the task difficult but we continued to rescue people,” he added.
Rescue work was further hampered by residents from nearby localities crowding the narrow street and making videos. They were eventually asked to vacate the area so that rescue operation could be carried out without any hindrance.
Sarfraz Ahmed – a firefighter at the crash site – told AFP the nose of the Airbus A320 and the fuselage had been heavily damaged by the impact, adding that rescuers had pulled bodies from the wrecked aircraft, including some who were still wearing seat belts.
Later, as night descended and darkness shrouded the locality, the severity of the damage dawned on the residents who were gripped by fear.
Reports emerged of multiple area residents going missing after the incident, with their families finding it difficult to locate them due to the debris strewn across the neighbourhood.
But they continued to look for their loved ones, fearing that they may have died and in hopes of finding them alive.
“Moments before the crash, they had no idea what was to befall them and now they are completely bewildered by what has happened,” said another eyewitness.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP