Pakistan plane crash leaves grim task: Identifying victims from DNA

  • >> Zia ur-Rehman and Salman Masood, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-05-24 01:21:22 BdST

A woman lights candles as she attends a prayer for the victims of Karachi plane crash, at the Cathedral Church of St John, in Peshawar, Pakistan May 23, 2020. REUTERS

The bodies were pulled one by one from the ruins of damaged buildings and the smouldering wreckage of the Pakistan International Airlines plane that had crashed a day earlier into a crowded neighbourhood of Karachi: 97 of them by Saturday.

Many were charred beyond recognition, leaving families — some clutching pictures of their loved ones — to depend on DNA results from a laboratory to identify those they had lost. Most of the relatives had spent the night before at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, the city’s largest government hospital, and on Saturday in hot weather at the crash site in the Model Colony neighbourhood, waiting for the grim word.

To help with the identifications, DNA samples from relatives of 40 victims had been submitted at the forensic lab at the University of Karachi, officials said. Nineteen bodies were identified and handed over to the relatives after DNA tests and identification, according to health officials. And post-mortems were being carried out on the rest of the passengers of the plane, an Airbus A320 belonging to the national airline.

An airline spokesman said on Saturday that the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder had been recovered from the crash site, Reuters reported. “The black box had been found late yesterday, we are handing it over to the inquiry board,” a Pakistan International Airlines spokesman, Abdullah Khan, was quoted as saying.

The crash has cast a pall on the nation a day before Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. The nation’s aviation industry has long had a troubled history of crashes. Most of the passengers, including top banking executives, a senior civil servant and military officials, had been returning to Karachi for Eid.

Pakistan Civil Aviation officials said 91 passengers and eight crew members had been on board Flight 8303 when it crashed Friday afternoon after departing from the eastern city of Lahore en route to the southern port city of Karachi. Two reportedly survived. The plane went down at 2:37pm a few miles from the airport.

Officials said on Saturday that there were no fatalities on the ground though the plane damaged 19 houses, setting two ablaze and burning them to the ground, in Model Colony, 3.2 kilometres from the Karachi airport.

© 2020 New York Times News Service