Muhammad Furqan’s heart sank when he heard about Friday’s tragic plane crash in Karachi, Pakistan.
Before moving to Canada in 2015, Furqan spent his entire life in the crowded neighbourhood where a jetliner carrying 98 people crashed after an apparent engine failure during landing.
While he hadn’t heard Friday if any of his former neighbours in the city had been hurt in the crash, Furqan said his brother’s friends live only 300 to 400 metres from the crash site. That brother lives in Winnipeg.
"They were safe," said a relieved Furqan, who owns Khan Foods in Brandon with his wife Bushra.
Officials in Pakistan said there were two survivors from the plane but at least 57 bodies were found in the wreckage, the Associated Press reported Friday.
It was unknown how many people on the ground were hurt as the Pakistan International Airlines jet, an Airbus A320, plowed into an alley and destroyed at least five houses.
"In Pakistan, the culture is like people they sit outside the home. They do a lot of gatherings," Furqan said, "so that’s why they said it’s very hard to tell how many casualties it could be."
Furqan said the crash is especially tragic, since many on the plane were finally getting to go back home to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr with family and friends.
Pakistan had resumed domestic flights earlier this week ahead of Eid-al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March because of the coronavirus, and the airline has been using social distancing guidelines on its flights by leaving every other seat vacant.
Southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, is the epicenter of the virus infections in Pakistan. The province has nearly 20,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 cases.
Furqan said the world has already witnessed so much bad news this year because of the global pandemic.
"2020 didn’t bring a lot of good news for every single person who is living in this world, because of that COVID-19 that hit really bad," said Furqan, who volunteered his services earlier in the pandemic to help out people stuck at home, picking up groceries and other essential items for people who called or texted him.
Khan Foods is a Pakistani and Middle Eastern restaurant.
The pilot of the doomed aircraft was heard transmitting a mayday to the tower shortly before the crash of Flight 8303, which was flying from Lahore to Karachi, according to the Associated Press.
The flight from the northeastern city of Lahore typically lasts approximately an hour and a half.
Video on social media appeared to show the jet flying low with flames shooting from one of its engines.
The plane went down at approximately 2:39 p.m. northeast of Jinnah International Airport in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony between houses that were smashed by its wings.
Police in protective masks struggled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so ambulances and firetrucks could reach the crash site.
Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on Nov. 1, 2019. PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted. It said "the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety" standards.
Ownership records for the Airbus A320 showed China Eastern Airlines flew the plane from 2004 until 2014. The plane then entered PIA’s fleet, leased from GE Capital Aviation Services.
Perry Bradley, a spokesman for GE, said the firm was "aware of reports of the accident and is closely monitoring the situation."
Airbus said the plane had logged 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flights as of Friday. The plane had two CFM56-5B4 engines.
Airbus said it would provide technical assistance to investigators in France and Pakistan, as well as the airline and engine manufacturers.
"We at Airbus are deeply saddened by the tragic news of flight #PK8303," tweeted Executive Director Guillaume Faury. "My thoughts and those of my Airbus colleagues, go to the families and loved ones affected. In aviation, we all work hard to prevent this. Airbus will provide full assistance to the investigating authorities."
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from The Associated Press