KARACHI – Pakistan escaped another air crash tragedy on Sunday when a London-bound PIA flight landed back at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport after one of plane’s two engines malfunctioned.

Say it good luck or timely decision and expertise of the PK-787 pilot that all 147 passengers and the crew were safely evacuated after the troubled Airbus A310 jetliner made an emergency landing within an hour to the take off.

A spokesman of the PIA (Pakistan International Airline) in a later response denied reports carried by some TV channels of eruption of fire in the engine. He said the plane took off normally at 11:25am and ‘safely landed’ back at 12:20pm, after remaining airborne for about 55 minutes.

The official said that Capt Ahmed Saeed noticed that one of the two engine malfunctioned and the safety procedure demanded that the aircraft be landed back. The PIA management has announced a medal for the operating pilot, who skilfully landed the plane, for his professionalism and for observing the safety procedures, he added.

The spokesman said that the PIA engineering had taken control of the aircraft and started checking the engine, which would take time. He said that another aircraft was available, so the passengers were boarded on that. The PK 787 with all the passengers and the crew took off for London at 3:15pm and was expected to reach Heathrow Airport at 7:15pm local time Sunday.

Earlier, unconfirmed reports carried by media cited PIA officials as saying that fire erupted in the left engine of the plane after the take off. They said the engine was immediately closed after the fire and a blast was also heard. Following which, the pilot informed control tower about the situation. Authorities then declared emergency on the airport, calling rescue teams, fire fighters and fire tenders for an emergency landing, they added. Some sources claimed the Civil Aviation Authority director had endorsed the above-said scenario, while Director Airport Services Asif Bashir denied the news of fire eruption.

The country’s airline industry has been marred by a string of accidents in recent years. This incident has once again put a question mark on the condition and performance of PIA airplanes and technical skill of its staff. In April this year, all 127 on board Bhoja Air’s Boeing 737-200 were killed when the plane took off from Karachi but crashed five kilometres off Islamabad. Earlier in July, 2010, an Airblue jetliner crashed into Islamabad’s Margalla Hills, killing all 146 passengers and six crew members on board.

Experts say that a plane is entirely checked before taking off which either did not happen in this case or the technical staff committed criminal negligence. The PIA spokesman claimed that the 200-seat Airbus A310 aircraft is designed to safely take off and land back on one engine. But can this argument justify the apparent negligence on the part of the PIA officials?