As militants took Karachi airport under siege on Sunday night, three flights were diverted to Nawabshah airport. The flights included Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) Karachi-bound PK-319 from Islamabad, Shaheen Airlines’ NL143 from Lahore and Air Indus’ flight I-104 from Islamabad. They were carrying 237, 68 and 179 passengers and crew members, respectively, and landed at the airport between 11:30pm and 12:30am.
According to SSP Pervez Chandio, the police and Rangers personnel surrounded the airport as soon as they came to know about the terrorist attack in Karachi. “We instantly moved the personnel to secure the airport, anticipating both an attack and flight diversions,” he told reporters at the airport.
The deputy commissioner, Abdul Aleem Lashari, claimed that they provided refreshments and doctors at the airport lounge. Some passengers did, however, complain that they weren’t allowed to disembark for several hours. “For six hours they kept us hostage in the plane,” complained a passenger, Hakim. “No one was listening to us. Finally, we forced the PIA staff to let us go without our luggage.” The passengers will be able to collect it in a few days. An Air Indus passenger, who requested anonymity, complained of insufficient facilities. “There were no stairs to disembark from the plane. They were arranged later.”
The passenger, who managed to get the ticket refunded from the airline, complained that the airlines violated their rights. “In case of delays, they [airlines] have to serve refreshments after two hours, a meal after four hours and a ticket refund or alternate flight after six hours,” he pointed out. But a majority of passengers are unaware of their rights, he admitted.
Govt provides buses to Karachi
The district administration arranged air-conditioned coaches to transport passengers to Karachi. All the passengers of Air Indus and 110 of PIA were sent early morning to Karachi through these coaches. Shaheen Airlines and PIA took the remaining passengers back to Lahore and Islamabad, respectively.
Hassan Zaheer, a student from NUST Islamabad, was on his way to Karachi on the 12am PIA flight when the plane landed in Nawabshah. “The plane kept circling in the air for a while and then the pilot announced that we would be landing at Nawabshah as the Karachi airport was closed indefinitely,” he said. “An hour or two after we landed and switched our phones on, we realised why the pilot had made the detour. The crew did not tell us anything, probably because they did not want anyone to panic.”
The airline gave the passengers the option of taking a bus to Karachi or fly to Lahore and then fly back when the situation at the airport was under control, he said. “Around 95% of the passengers opted for the buses, which were quite comfortable. We had to go through a security check and were followed to Karachi with a proper police protocol.”
According to Zaheer, his initial concern was not for himself but his family who was supposed to pick him up in Karachi. “The first thing I did when we landed at Nawabshah was to call them and ask where they were.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2014.