KARACHI, Pakistan – A cargo plane crashed in flames into a residential area in Pakistan's largest city soon after takeoff Sunday, killing all eight crew and at least three people on the ground, officials said.
The crash was the second this month in Karachi, the main port city in the south, and the third in Pakistan in less than five months.
The Russian-made plane slammed into a housing complex under construction in Karachi, sending fire and smoke into the sky and damaging about 20 buildings. The aircraft narrowly missed hitting several large occupied apartment buildings only a few hundred yards (meters) away.
Authorities recovered three bodies from the smoking rubble by Sunday afternoon and one laborer was still missing, said navy Commodore Mohammad Musra. Another person on the ground was hospitalized with severe burns, said local doctor Abdul Razak.
The Sudan-bound plane crashed around 1:50 a.m., when many people in the upscale neighborhood were asleep. One of the plane's engines was on fire as it flew overhead, several witnesses said.
"I saw one of its wings was burning and there was a blast and the fire engulfed the aircraft very quickly," said Riaz Ahmed.
Residents said most of the houses destroyed were under construction and believed to be unoccupied except for a few of the laborers building them.
Karachi police chief Fayaz Leghari said a larger catastrophe had narrowly been averted.
"It would have been a big disaster had the plane hit the residential apartments," Leghari said.
Aviation authority spokesman Pervais George said the plane came down two minutes after takeoff from the city's international airport. He said the eight crew were dead.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleksander Dykusarov said seven Ukrainians were among the crew, including the commander, pilot and navigator. He told the Interfax news agency the information was provided by the plane's owner, Sunway, of Georgia.
George initially identified the crew as Russians, but another Pakistani aviation official, Mukhtar Ahmad, later said that the nationalities and identities of the eight aboard had not been confirmed.
Many people initially thought the blast was from a bomb, a regular event in militant-torn Pakistan.
"I was sleeping and the huge blast awoke me. I thought some suicide attack might have occurred and I ran outside," said Rehan Hashmi.
Fire trucks sprayed foam onto the crash site and after two hours the blaze was extinguished.
Hundreds of people came to see the spectacle and film it with their mobile phones, hampering access for emergency workers.
Most of the housing complex was reserved for naval officers and their families.
George said the plane was an Ilyushin Il-76, a multipurpose cargo plane that is often used for ferrying humanitarian aid to developing countries, as well as other large items.
Earlier this month in Karachi, a small passenger plane crashed soon after takeoff, killing 21 people.
In July, a passenger jet operated by Pakistani carrier Airblue crashed into hills overlooking the capital, Islamabad, during stormy weather, killing all 152 on board.