A year on from PIA air crash

97 victims’ families yet to receive insurance payment


Our Correspondent May 22, 2021
PHOTO: AFP

It has been a year since Dr. Muhammad Mohsin was forced to experience, what he described, as nothing short of doomsday. His brother and he were at the Jinnah International Airport arrivals lounge to receive their mother who was onboard Pakistan International Airlines' Flight PK-8303 landing from Lahore. As the two waited, news started spreading of a plane crash. When it was confirmed that the crashed aircraft belonged to PIA, both men hurriedly left the airport and followed the trail of smoke all the way to the crash site.

The destroyed aircraft before them was the same one carrying their mother. Mohsin remembers May 22, 2020, like it was yesterday. The day fell on the occasion of Jummatul Wida when Flight PK-8303 of the national carrier took off from Lahore for Karachi but crashed near the port city's runway. As many as 97 people, including eight staff members, lost their lives. Only two survived.

The crash occurred at the time of landing and was either caused by a technical fault or cockpit staff error.

The interim report presented to the National Assembly pinned the blame on the flight captain and his assistant for their negligence. A year on, those affected by the crash claim they have yet to receive insurance payment.

Mohsin believes that his family is entitled to the insurance money for which they paid when purchasing the flight ticket. He has sent requests to the government to include the victims in the crash probe and asked that the insurance payment not be made conditional to signing the release-deed agreement. Finally, he has urged the establishment of an emergency response centre that allows easy access to citizens at the time of such an incident.

Families of victims share that despite a year, the PIA has not paid Rs10 million of insurance money to the grieving families. Relatives say they are willing to sign the documents, but not at the risk of annulling their legal rights. The wrong body Zarqa Chaudhry, who lost her father in the crash, tells The Express Tribune that her father was coming from Lahore after two months to celebrate Eid. Zarqa's son reached Karachi airport to receive his grandfather, while family members were busy preparing a grand reception for the passenger.

Like the families of others on the flight, they received a phone call carrying news of a plane crash in Karachi.

At first, Zarqa refused to believe that her father was on the same flight. A wave of hope came when rumors of survivors started emerging. Three days later, however, she was forced to identify her father's body at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.

She was told it would be handed over to her after sufficient scientific evidence was collected to prove the identity. Zarqa alleges that several bodies were displaced during the chaotic situation and the one given to her was not the one she had identified at the hospital. However, she ultimately compromised due to her mother's deteriorating health condition. The daughter of the victim says she would never have compromised at the time had she known that her mother would also pass away 14 days later.

Ill-fated flight Flight PK 8303, carrying 91 passengers and eight staff members, took off at 1.10 PM from Lahore's Allama Iqbal International Airport and the aircraft briefly touched Karachi's Jinnah International Airport's tarmac at 2.37 PM, but the captain took off again.

The aircraft finally crash-landed over a residential area in Jinnah Garden, a kilometre away from the runway.

Before its brief encounter with the runway, air traffic controllers informed flight Captain Sajjad Gul that the altitude and speed of the aircraft were high. He was told that instead of being at a height of 1,800 feet, the plane was flying at 3,000. The captain replied he would control both altitude and speed.

Shortly after, the aircraft touched down on the runway without the landing gear deployed. It experienced friction during the belly landing and flames began to appear due to the engine rubbing on the runway. Owing to the high speed, the captain decided to ground the aircraft after a takeoff.

Cameras installed at the airport showed that the landing gear of the aircraft was still up on landing. After taking off again for a second approach to the runway, the aircraft remained in contact with the ground control tower for one minute and 16 seconds.

The pilot informed air traffic controllers about the jamming of the landing gear and engine failure.

He sent two Mayday calls before the aircraft disappeared from the map. The Airbus A320 crashed into the residential area of Jinnah Garden, damaging several homes partially and some completely. The plane also damaged several vehicles and motorcycles parked outside the residences.

The Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board, led by Air Commander Usman Ghani, initiated a probe into the crash. An 11-member airbase team reached Karachi after three days and inspected the engines, landing gear, wings, and avionics system of the aircraft.

They later traveled to France to decode the black box and recover voice recordings. An interim report was presented to the National Assembly after a month.

The federal aviation minister accused the pilot of neglecting air traffic control orders.

It was stated that both he and the assistant pilot were overconfident.

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