The last thing Muhammad Zubair can remember before the plane hit the ground is the acrid smell of jet fuel and the cries of fellow passengers as flames began to engulf the cabin.
As he struggled to unbuckle his seatbelt with fire blazing beneath his chair, Zubair said he “followed the light and got to this hole and I jumped out on to the wing, and then to the ground”.
Zubair (24) was one of two survivors among the 99 people – 91 passengers and eight crew – onboard the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane that crashed into a residential area of Karachi on Friday after an engine failed on approach to the runway.
Bodies were still being pulled from the wreckage late on Friday night. Most were so badly burned that only 19 could easily be identified. Officials said they had begun DNA sampling to identify the others.
About 19 houses in the dense Model Colony neighbourhood of Karachi were destroyed in the crash. There were no fatalities on the ground, but some residents suffered severe burns.
Rescue workers evacuate the site after a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft crashed in a residential neighbourhood in Karachi. Photograph: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images
PIA said it would hand over the plane’s black box to the inquiry board, and Airbus said it was cooperating fully with Pakistan authorities.
Audio recordings of the pilot’s final contact with air traffic control revealed his last words were “we have lost engines”.
Zubair, a mechanical engineer, spoke from Civil hospital in Karachi where he was receiving treatment for burns to his hands and legs. He said he initially thought the plane was experiencing normal turbulence, but as the ground approached he knew something was very wrong.
“We almost hit the floor more than once, but then I don’t know why the plane couldn’t stop and we went up again,” he said.
Rescue workers search for survivors amid the wreckage of the plane in Karachi on Friday. Photograph: Shahzaib Akber/EPA
The other survivor was Zafar Masud, the chief executive of Punjab Bank, who escaped with a broken arm and bruising and is being treated at Darul Sehat hospital in Karachi. His sister, Zainab Imam, said it was a miracle that he had survived.
“All he remembers is that there was turbulence and then he had lost much of his senses and his bearings,” said Ms Imam. “What I understand is that his seat almost kind of flew out of the plane and he fell out. And he was a bit away from the main wreckage and the fire.
“Then there were these people, maybe they were residents or first responders, I’m not sure. They’re heroes. They shook him and they helped him up and that’s when he realised that he had broken his arm but he was alive.”
This weekend would usually be a time of celebration for Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, but for the families of the 97 dead it was a time of mourning.
When Usama Qureshi (39) learned that his friend Zain Polani had been onboard the flight, he rushed to Jinnah hospital and sat outside the mortuary from 3.30pm until midnight waiting for news and watching as bodies were brought in one after the other.
“The first 15 bodies they brought in, they were whole or in two pieces,” said Qureshi. “But after that, the bodies were just burnt and in many parts.”
As the mortuary filled up, the bodies had to be kept in air-conditioned ambulances. Qureshi said his friend’s body had still not been identified, adding uncertainty to the tragedy.
“I feel numb, I can’t believe he’s no more,” he said. “I was just telling some friends, maybe there will be a miracle, maybe they’ll find Zain at some hospital. If they can’t find his body, maybe we’ll get a call that he’s still alive.” – Guardian