At least four people were killed when a Russian-made cargo plane crashed seconds after takeoff in a fireball near residential apartments in Karachi Sunday, Pakistani officials said.
It slammed into buildings under construction in the sensitive Dalmai neighbourhood, where the Pakistan Air Force and Navy have residential apartments and offices close to Jinnah International airport, witnesses said.
"The bodies of four people have been recovered from the area. Rescue workers are still searching whether there are any other bodies or injured people in the debris," police official Shad Masih told AFP.
It was not clear whether the casualties were from the aircraft or had been on the ground.
"We can't say who these people are," said Masih. "They can't be recognised. The bodies are completely defaced."
It was the third plane accident in four months in Pakistan, a country of 170 million people where inter-city travel is most efficient by air, and the second aircraft to crash after take off from Karachi in just four weeks.
Hospital doctors said around seven people on the ground were injured and an AFP reporter saw pieces of flesh being recovered from the debris by medics.
"It took off from Karachi at 1:45 am (20:45 GMT Saturday) and after one and a half minutes it crashed," he added.
Witnesses spoke of their horror at seeing a fireball racing through the night sky.
"I saw a fireball plummeting to ground," milk seller Mohammad Raees told AFP. He had been going home on his motorbike after closing his shop.
"It was so huge and quick. I was terrified.
"I couldn't see what it was. I sped up to save my life and after a few seconds I heard a deafening explosion, but thanks to Allah my life was saved and I was not injured."
The explosion caused by the crash was so powerful that local residents thought it was triggered by a bomb, said Karachi police chief Fayyas Leghari, who confirmed the toll.
Flames raged in four to five construction sites, but officials said the number of casualties could have been far higher if the plane had struck nearby residential buildings.
"The crash has created a large fire. The fire brigade is on site and trying to extinguish the flames, but the fire is too large to bring under control quickly, so it will take time," said Leghari.
"It was a huge blast. People thought it was a bomb blast. Police are trying to assess the number of casualties."
Residents in nearby buildings left to spend the night with relatives and police were evacuating others, Leghari added.
A Civil Aviation Authority official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity said that the plane crashed close to Navy residential apartments.
The site was near to the military-controlled area where a Pakistani twin-engine turboprop crashed after take off from Karachi on November 5, killing all 21 people on board.
The US-manufactured Beech 1900C aircraft operated by local company JS Air had taken off from Jinnah International airport carrying staff from an Italian oil company to an oil field in the southern province of Sindh.
Two Americans, an Austrian-born businessman, five children and two babies were among those killed in the worst aviation accident on Pakistani soil.
Source: AFP Global Edition