Pakistani airliner carrying 99 plunges into Karachi houses

By Syed Raza Hassan

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – A Pakistan International Airlines Airbus jet with 99 people aboard crashed into a crowded residential district of the city of Karachi on Friday afternoon while approaching the airport.

At least 56 people were confirmed to have died, hospital officials told Reuters, though other officials gave different figures and authorities did not release an estimate of casualties on the ground.

Two passengers survived, including Zafar Masood, president of the Bank of Punjab, a Sindh provincial government spokesman said. The bank said he had suffered fractures but was “conscious and responding well”.

The other survivor, engineer Muhammad Zubair, told Geo News the pilot came down for one landing, briefly touched down, then took off again.

After around 10 more minutes of flying, the pilot announced to passengers he was going to go around for a second go, then crashed as he approached the runway, Zubair said from his bed in Civil Hospital Karachi.

“All I could see around was smoke and fire,” he added. “I could hear screams from all directions. Kids and adults. All I could see was fire. I couldn’t see any people – just hear their screams.

“I opened my seat belt and saw some light – I went towards the light. I had to jump down about 10 feet to get to safety.”

‘WE HAVE LOST ENGINES’

Smoke billowed from the scene where flight PK 8303 came down at about 2:45 p.m. (0945 GMT). Twisted fuselage lay in the rubble of multi-story buildings as ambulances rushed through chaotic crowds.

The crash happened on the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid when Pakistanis travel to visit relatives.

“The airplane first hit a mobile tower and crashed over houses,” witness Shakeel Ahmed said near the site, a few kilometers short of the airport.

The Airbus A320 was flying from the eastern city of Lahore to Karachi in the south with 91 passengers and eight crew, civil aviation authorities said, just as Pakistan was resuming domestic flights in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

A total of 56 bodies were brought to JPMC hospital and the Civil Hospital Karachi, officials from both institutions said. The airline’s chief executive, Arshad Malik, told reporters he knew of 41 confirmed deaths.

Seconds before the crash, the pilot told air traffic controllers he had lost power from both engines, according to a recording posted on liveatc.net, a widely respected aviation monitoring website.

“We are returning back, sir, we have lost engines,” a man was heard saying in a recording released by the website. The controller freed up both the airport’s runways but moments later the man called “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”.

‘IMMEDIATE INQUIRY’

There was no further communication from the plane, according to the tape, which could not immediately be authenticated.

“The last we heard from the pilot was that he has some technical problem … It is a very tragic incident,” said the state carrier’s spokesman, Abdullah H. Khan.

Another senior civil aviation official told Reuters it appeared the plane had been unable to lower its undercarriage for the first approach due to a technical fault, but it was too early to determine the cause.

Aviation safety experts say air crashes typically have multiple causes, and that it is too early to understand them within the first hours or days.

Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash … Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”

Airbus said the jet first flew in 2004 and was fitted with engines built by CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran.

(Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad, Gibran Peshimam in Karachi and Tim Hepher in Paris; Writing and reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Kevin Liffey and Jonathan Oatis)

Pakistan heatwave kills 65 people in Karachi – welfare organization

Men and children cool off from the heatwave, as they are sprayed with water jetting out from a leaking water pipeline in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

By Saad Sayeed

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A heatwave has killed 65 people in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi over the past three days, a social welfare organization said on Tuesday, amid fears the death toll could climb as the high temperatures persist.

The heatwave has coincided with power outages and the holy month of Ramadan, when most Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. Temperatures hit 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) on Monday, local media reported.

Faisal Edhi, who runs the Edhi Foundation that operates morgues and an ambulance service in Pakistan’s biggest city, said the deaths occurred mostly in the poor areas of Karachi.

Residents sleep on a building pavement, to escape heat and frequent power outage in their residence area Karachi, Pakistan. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Residents sleep on a building pavement, to escape heat and frequent power outage in their residence area Karachi, Pakistan. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

“Sixty-five people have died over the last three days,” Edhi told Reuters. “We have the bodies in our cold storage facilities and their neighborhood doctors have said they died of heat-stroke.”

A government spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

But Sindh province’s Health Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho told the English-language Dawn newspaper that no one has died from heat-stroke.

“Only doctors and hospitals can decide whether the cause of death was heat-stroke or not. I categorically reject that people have died due to heat-stroke in Karachi,” Pechuho was quoted as saying.

Nonetheless, reports of heat stroke deaths in Karachi will stir unease amid fears of a repeat of a heatwave in of 2015, when morgues and hospitals were overwhelmed and at least 1,300 mostly elderly and sick people died from the searing heat.

In 2015, the Edhi morgue ran out of freezer space after about 650 bodies were brought in the space of a few days. Ambulances left decaying corpses outside in sweltering heat.

The provincial government has assured residents that there would be no repeat of 2015 and was working on ensuring those in need of care receive rapid treatment.

Edhi said most of the dead brought to the morgue were working class factory workers who came from the low-income Landhi and Korangi areas of Karachi.

“They work around heaters and boilers in textile factories and there is eight to nine hours of (scheduled power outages) in these areas,” he said.

Temperatures are expected to stay above 40C until Thursday, local media reported.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Alison Williams)

Founded to protest Pakistan ‘disappearances’, group now sees supporters go missing

A supporter of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) holds a placard, with a photo of a missing person, at a rally in response to alleged human rights violations by security forces, in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2018. Picture taken May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

By Saad Sayeed

KARACHI (Reuters) – As they were about to enter the office of the Commissioner of Karachi for a meeting to discuss a rally planned in Pakistan’s largest city, leaders of a Pashtun-led rights movement were intercepted by armed men accompanied by paramilitary Rangers.

“A car with men in plainclothes pulled up in front of us and men with guns got out and told us to stand still,” Said Alam Mahsud, an organizer with the Pashtun Tahafaz Movement (PTM), told Reuters.

He said three PTM activists with him were put in a truck and taken away by the armed men, as uniformed Rangers stood by. They returned two days later saying they had been interrogated, threatened, punched and kicked by the unidentified men, then handed over to the Rangers, who released them.

PTM, which drew nearly 10,000 people to its Karachi rally on Sunday, was founded in January in protest against alleged extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and “disappearances” of young Pashtun men.

Leaders of the emerging movement have blamed Pakistan’s military for these abuses, in an unusually direct challenge to the country’s most powerful institution.

Now, PTM’s activists themselves have started disappearing, according to Mohsin Dawar, one of the movement’s leaders.

PTM organizers again blame the powerful military, saying the movement’s growing popularity in major cities, even amid a local media blackout, has left the security forces feeling threatened.

The military’s press wing did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations. In the past, the army has said it does not detain individuals without evidence.

Officials from the paramilitary Rangers, which are part of the security forces and have broad powers in Karachi, also did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the office of the Karachi Commissioner, who is the head of the city government.

“ANTI-STATE AGENDA”

In the past month, PTM says dozens of its activists have been detained across the country, while newspaper columnists have had articles on PTM rejected. Some students and academics say they have been threatened and universities forced to call off talks about Pashtun inequality.

In the week leading up to the Karachi protest, PTM’s leadership said Rangers and unidentified security officials detained and interrogated more than 100 of its supporters and kept nearly 30 workers in custody.

“The amount they are trying to stop us, it shows they are scared,” student activist Manzoor Pashteen, who has become the face of the movement, told Reuters. “I don’t think they know they are our guardians, their behavior is that of criminals.”

Despite the apparent crackdown, the protest in Karachi drew nearly 10,000 people. Pashteen himself was stopped from boarding a flight from the capital, Islamabad, to Karachi on Saturday after the airline told him his ticket had been canceled, he said, adding it took him 40 hours to drive to the city after being stopped and detained several times while on the road.

While there has been no official action against the PTM, army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa said recently that “no anti-state agenda in the garb of engineered protests” would be allowed to succeed. His comments were widely interpreted as being directed at the group.

Many of Pakistan’s 30 million ethnic Pashtun’s hail originally from the borderlands with Afghanistan, where the Pakistani Taliban controlled swathes of territory until they were pushed out by military operations in 2009 and 2014.

PTM leaders say they do not want to challenge the government or undermine security, but complain Pashtuns – many of whom have moved to the cities to escape a near-decade long insurgency by Islamist militants – are unfairly targeted and suffer abuses at the hands of security forces in the name of fighting terrorism.

CAMPUS CHALLENGE

In April, a week before PTM was due to stage a rally in Lahore, Habib University in Karachi and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) called off talks related to Pashtun rights organized by students and academics.

On the morning of the talks, both universities received calls from security officials, including representatives of Pakistan’s spy agency the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), telling them to cancel the discussions, faculty members said.

“Calls were made to the administration as well as in-person visits from people who identified themselves as ISI,” said a LUMS professor. “I received a call and was told to refrain from anti-military activity.”

Officials from the ISI did not respond to a request for comment.

At Habib University, the administration received visits from security officials and a call on the morning the lecture was due to take place, three different faculty members said.

Representatives from LUMS and Habib University did not respond to requests for comment.

Three students who had expressed support for PTM on social media told Reuters they had received threatening calls from unknown numbers telling them to stop, adding they knew of a dozen others who had received similar calls.

The same week, Punjab University professor Ammar Ali Jan said he was removed from his post for encouraging students to be vocal about human rights issues and supporting PTM.

Punjab University spokesman Khurram Shahzad said Jan was dismissed because of incomplete paperwork.

Pakistan’s minister for state and interior affairs, Talal Chaudhry, said such actions “by unnamed forces” were part of a wider clampdown on freedom of thought in Pakistan.

“We now have to listen to the people of Pakistan,” Chaudhry said. “There have been very few such things in Pakistan’s history where people come out on their own, to support a leaderless group,” he added, referring to PTM.

Relations between the army and civilian government have been increasingly strained since the removal of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by the courts last year, with some ruling party insiders accusing elements of the military of trying to destabilize it ahead of a general election expected in July.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half its history, denies any interference in civilian politics.

Ismat Shahjahan, organiser of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) walks with flags at rally against, what they say, are human rights violations by security forces, in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2018. Picture taken May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Ismat Shahjahan, organiser of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) walks with flags at rally against, what they say, are human rights violations by security forces, in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2018. Picture taken May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

CRACKDOWN IN KARACHI

Mohsin Dawar arrived in Karachi on May 6 and, along with other PTM leaders, began meeting local Pashtuns to plan the weekend rally.

“From the day we arrived they [the Rangers] began arresting our supporters,” Dawar said.

People who provided PTM with logistical support, such as a place to hold their meetings, were picked up for five to six hours and threatened, he said.

“They told them not to support us; that we will leave Karachi but they have to continue living here,” Dawar added.

Karachi is where the killing of a young Pashtun, Naqeebullah Mehsud, by police in January sparked nationwide peaceful demonstrations about Pashtun rights, from which PTM emerged.

Organizers say they attempted to contract vendors to supply chairs, a stage, and a sound system for the rally, but none of the equipment was delivered.

One vendor, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters he received a call after meeting PTM members. “They said that if even one candle was delivered to the rally, my body would never be found,” he said.

(Reporting by Saad Sayeed; Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Syed Raza Hasan in Karachi; Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Kay Johnson and Alex Richardson)

Pakistan Heat Wave Death Toll Skyrockets

The death toll from the heat wave in Karachi, Pakistan has skyrocketed in the last 24 hours.

Reported yesterday at close to 225 victims of the heat, the official toll now stands at over 650 people.  Morgue officials say they are overwhelmed by the number of bodies and that hospitals throughout the region have declared a state of emergency.

Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, the area’s largest hospital, reported treating over 3,000 patients in the last few days.  The city’s main morgue is over capacity.

Authorities have closed schools and even some government offices in an attempt to keep residents from going out in the lethal heat.

Saeed Mangnejo, senior provincial health official, told the Irish Independent newspaper that he expects the death toll to climb further in the next few days.

The wealthy in the city have been receiving tankers of water but the poor are having to go without fresh, cool water.

“This is how it is. No one cares for common poor man here,” Khadim Ali complained as he fanned his cousin, Shahad Ali, a 40-year-old vegetable vendor who collapsed in the heat.

The situation is further complicated for many Muslim residents as they cannot eat or drink during the daylight hours because of Ramadan.

Meterologists say a sea breeze will likely move into the region through the night bringing cooler temperatures.  A monsoon rain could also reach the city and bring relief.

The city’s electrical grid continues to fail as residents overwhelm the system with air conditioners and fans.

Heat Wave Kills 224 in Karachi

A record-shattering heat wave in Pakistan has left at least 224 people dead.

Officials in Karachi, the country’s largest city with 20 million residents, say that 224 people have been confirmed dead from heat related causes.  Hundreds more are being treated for heat stroke or other heat related illnesses.

“Hospitals across the city are overcrowded due to record numbers of patients suffering from heat stroke,” Jam Mehtab Hussain Dahar, the health minister for Sindh province, said. “The numbers are unprecedented but the situation is under control.”

Temperatures in the city on Saturday reached close to 113 degrees fahrenheit, the highest recorded temperature in the country in 15 years.  Sunday’s high was around 108.5 fahrenheit.  The city’s all time record is 117 degrees fahrenheit set in 1979.

Local media reported that 150 bodies were taken to the Edhi morgue in Sohrab Goth.  The morgue usually receives 20 bodies a day.

Many of the country’s residents are Muslim, meaning they are observing Ramadan and not partaking of food and water during the daylight hours.  The city is also dealing with frequent power outages that cut off air conditioning and fans.

The heat wave comes after a wave last month in India left over 2,000 people dead.