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Citizen Voices

PIA Plane Crash: How I Felt Seeing My Namesake’s Name On List Of Passengers

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I checked the list which Dawn had posted of the passengers who were on the ill-fated PIA plane that crashed in Karachi last Friday, and for each person on the flight; my heart missed a beat.

Then, it nearly stopped when I saw the name ‘Ishtiaq Ahmed‘ on the list. 57 were reported dead at the time but the list was preliminary. Since the plane crashed in a very congested residential area the devastation was great and there are only two survivors.

Some years ago, I was returning to Lahore on a PIA aircraft. I and many Pakistani social and political scientists, Dr Tariq Rahman, Dr Mohammad Waseem, Prof. Sajjad Naseer (was my teacher at PU though he looks eternally a youngster even now) and many others were on the plane.

I had come from Sweden and others from Pakistan to attend a conference at the Jamia Millia University, New Delhi. The plane was descending to land in Lahore. It was not more than 500 metres from the tarmac when suddenly there was a hailstorm and the whole runway was studded with ice cubicles. Had the pilot landed, the plane would have crashed, but he applied the engines with full force and the plane pulled up just seconds before landing.

This is always critical – if the engines had not responded it would have resulted in a horrific crash, but this time they worked.

The trauma was enormously compounded when suddenly the plane having risen sharply began to fall. It had entered what is known as the dreaded ‘air pocket’. An air pocket is a void where there is no air and things only fall.

One could hear people starting to chant the Aiyat–al-Kuri. Then the plane steadied, but another complication arose. It seemed to have changed course. Dr Waseem, Prof. Sajjad Naeer and I were sitting together. Dr Waseem exclaimed ‘Our plane is being hijacked and we are returning to India’. That however did not happen and we landed in Multan where we waited several hours until Lahore was cleared and we could return safely.

So, I have lived long enough to write this short piece. But the Ishtiaq Ahmed on this ill-fated Lahore – Karachi flight did not live to tell the tale. Such is life, it can go on and on or be cut short in a flash of a second.


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Naya Daur