Ninety-seven people were killed after the crash of flight PK8303 from Lahore to Karachi airport on May 22, 2020. As multiple elements emerge on social media, the thesis of an aborted belly-landing seems likely.
The A320 registered AP-BLD took off from Lahore Allama Iqbal International Airport (LHE) shortly after 8 am (UTC). It was scheduled to arrive at Karachi Jinnah International Airport (KHI) 1,5 hours later. On board were 99 people, including 89 passengers and eight crew members.
Data extracted from flightradar24 shows that the approach was higher than usual for Karachi airport. 10 miles away from the airport, the plane was still at an altitude of 7,000 feet instead of the nominal 3,000 feet.
The altitude graph of PIA #PK8303 for the last ten minutes of the flight, based on @Flightradar24 data.
In comparison to a typical A320 approach to Karachi, PK8303 seems to have been relatively high on the first attempt. pic.twitter.com/mdYZRnBUnK
— Aviation Safety Net (@AviationSafety) May 23, 2020
According to local media, Karachi air traffic control warned the flight crew three times of their faulty altitude, to which the pilot responded by saying that he was “satisfied.”
It appears that the A320 had not deployed its landing gears when it touched runway 25L, as shown by footage released by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority. Instead, engines impacted the ground. Scratch marks of the left engine appear at the 4,500 feet mark from the threshold, and more scratches, this time from both engines, at 5,500 feet.
From this moment, pilots aborted the landing and decided to carry out a go-around. A nearby planespotter took a picture of the aircraft, with both engines damaged.
Our hearts weep with some terrible news coming out of Karachi today. Here is AP-BLD in it’s final moments, attempting a go around after it’s first attempt of belly landing. A little smoke can be seen from engines as well.#PlaneSpottersPakistan #avipak #planecrash #karachi pic.twitter.com/eOKiCAeRu7
— Plane Spotters Pakistan (@PlaneSpottersPK) May 22, 2020
The flight crew radioed ATC to report they lost engine power. “We are proceeding direct, we have lost engines,” said the captain, shortly before crashing in a residential area, about 4,400 feet from the airport runways. 97 people were killed, two survived and were hospitalized in stable condition. No casualty was reported on the ground, where eleven people were injured.
One intriguing element, however, comes from a nearby CCTV camera that captured the aircraft seconds before impact. On the video, the A320 can be seen stalling with its landing gears down.
Exclusive CCTV Footage of today Plane Crash Near Karachi Airport#Breaking #PlaneCrash #Karachi #Pakistan #PIA pic.twitter.com/WXlOzLrGPm
— Weather Of Karachi- WOK (@KarachiWok) May 22, 2020
The investigation will have to determine if the landing gears were faulty, or if the flight crew simply forgot to extend them before landing. The flight data recorder has been recovered, while the cockpit voice recorder is still missing. An interim report should be published in three months.
The A320 registered AP-BLD entered service in 2004 with China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) , before entering the fleet of Pakistan International Airlines in 2014. Both companies leased the plane from GECAS. According to the airline, the last check of the plane was done on March 21, 2020.
The last incident of that scale involving PIA dates back to 2016, when a passenger aircraft ATR 42-500 carrying 47 people crashed in the mountainous area near Havelian, Pakistan. Between March and November 2007, PIA had been briefly put on the European Union blacklist.