Reeling families flood hospitals after crash

Most bodies unidentified, loved ones directed to the morgue as they sought information

Sameer Mandhro May 22, 2020
A man looks at a list of the deceased and injured brought in to JPMC from the crash site, posted at an information desk outside the hospital. Many of the bodies remain unidentified. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: Amid complete confusion, family members, relatives and friends poured into the major hospitals of the metropolis in search of their loved ones after a plane crashed near the port city's airport in the densely populated area of Model Colony on Friday.

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) aircraft, flying from Lahore to Karachi, had 99 passengers and eight crew members on board during the time of the incident. The crash caused significant damage in the residential area, Jinnah Garden, reportedly destroying a number of houses.

Panicking, the families of passengers and area residents alike reached Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC) and Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK), seeking news about those who were missing. The majority of them were directed by hospital staff to go to the morgue.

Over three dozen bodies, including those of three children, were brought to JPMC's mortuary by Friday evening, while around two dozen more were shifted by rescue workers to CHK.

Meanwhile, five wounded persons - all residents of Jinnah Garden - were brought to JPMC for treatment, while another three injured people, including a plane survivor, were taken to Civil hospital.

As the provincial government declared an emergency in the hospitals, medical personnel and senior doctors wearing personal protective equipment rushed to the emergency wards to meet the arriving ambulances. Meanwhile, law enforcement personnel, including police officials and Rangers, were deployed outside the hospitals to control the situation.

An information desk was set up outside the JPMC emergency ward, where the hospital staff attempted to assist the terrified families with what little information they could share.

Safety Investigation Board to conduct PIA plane crash inquiry

Ambulances belonging to the Edhi Foundation and Chhipa Welfare Association shifted bodies directly to the morgues, where the waiting families tried to enter the premises in an attempt to identify their loved ones.

"Only five persons, including a girl, have been identified so far," disclosed a police official outside JPMC. He added that it was near-impossible for families to identify the deceased, due to the severe burns they had sustained.

"I am looking for my sister," a dazed young boy, standing with his mother outside the morgue, told The Express Tribune, adding that she was visiting home for the first time after her wedding a few months ago.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Bilal, a resident of Jinnah Garden, was unsure how many people he knew were among the deceased. "My brother-in-law was on the flight, and unfortunately, the plane crashed near our house as well," he explained.

Narrating what had happened earlier in the afternoon, Bilal said he had been sleeping when the plane crashed around 50 metres away from his home near Bilal Mosque. "When I reached the spot, there was complete chaos," he said, adding that over half a dozen houses near his own residence were destroyed.

Beside himself with worry about his sister-in-law, who was on board the flight, another man tried to scuffle with rescue workers. "My family is in shock and no one is guiding us properly about where the bodies and the injured are being taken," he protested.

After around a dozen bodies were brought in by rescue workers, the morgue at JPMC ran out of space, with Edhi Foundation and Chhipa Welfare Association's mobile morgues being called in as a result, to help shoulder the task. Bodies that were unidentified were shifted to them.

According to JPMC officials, DNA testing will be carried out to identify the bodies.

At CHK, medical superintendent Dr Khadim Hussain Qureshi told The Express Tribune that three people, including one who had been on the flight, were being treated at the hospital's burns ward.

He, too, added that they had begun collecting samples for DNA testing from the deceased through a police surgeon. "The only way to identify many of the bodies, unfortunately, is through DNA tests," he explained, adding that the bodies were shifted to the Edhi morgue after the samples were taken.

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