Pakistan plane crash was ‘human error’ – initial report

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Media captionThe crash happened in the Model Colony residential area

A plane crash that killed 97 people in Pakistan last month was a result of human error by the pilot and air traffic control, according to an initial report into the disaster.

They failed to follow protocol, aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said, announcing the findings in parliament.

He also said the pilots were distracted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The passenger plane came down on houses in Karachi on 22 May.

Mr Khan said there was nothing wrong with the aircraft, an Airbus A320, run by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

“The pilot ignored the instructions of the air traffic controllers [ATC] and the ATC, on the other hand, did not inform the pilot about the engine colliding,” Mr Khan added.

The passenger plane was en route from Lahore when it crashed into the residential area after attempting to land at the city’s Jinnah International Airport.

After one aborted landing, it went round again, lost its engines and issued a mayday call.

Only two passengers survived.

What happened on board?

Purported audio of the conversation between air traffic control and a pilot for the second attempt was published shortly after the crash by Pakistani media outlets, in which the pilot is heard saying the plane has “lost engines”.

An air traffic controller asks whether it is going to carry out a “belly landing”, to which the pilot replies “mayday, mayday, mayday” – the final communication from the plane.

Muhammad Zubair, one of the two surviving passengers, said there were 10-15 minutes between the first attempt at landing and the crash. “No-one was aware that the plane was about to crash; they were flying the plane in a smooth manner,” he said.

He recalled how he lost consciousness during the sudden descent, then woke up to smoke and screaming.

PIA said the plane had joined the fleet in 2014 and passed its annual airworthiness inspection last November.

The crash came just days after Pakistan began allowing commercial flights to resume after coronavirus restrictions were eased.

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Image caption

The crash site was just short of the airport perimeter

What is Pakistan’s safety record like?

Pakistan has a chequered aviation safety record, including a number of airliner crashes.

In 2010, an aircraft operated by private airline Airblue crashed near Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board – the deadliest air disaster in Pakistani history.

In 2012, a Boeing 737-200 operated by Pakistan’s Bhoja Air crashed in bad weather on its approach to land in Rawalpindi, killing all 121 passengers and six crew.

And in 2016, a Pakistan International Airlines plane burst into flames while travelling from northern Pakistan to Islamabad, killing 47 people.