How God Saved Me From a Plane Crash That Killed About 98 People, Only I Survived- Man Narrate
Zafar Masud was just one of two survivors of a crash that killed 98 people in Karachi
When Zafar Masud ponders the difference between his miracle survival and the death which claimed nearly all his fellow passengers, one of the most significant reasons for his survival seems to come down to his simple preference for an aisle seat.
When Mr Masud now looks back to that fateful morning two years ago, many of his actions are loaded with significance.
His decision to take a later flight than originally planned, or the flight unusually running on time have all become important points in his survival story. But perhaps none more so than his late decision to swap from a place by the window, to seat 1C on the aisle.
“I think that in my survival that the location of that seat plays a very significant role,” Mr Masud told the Telegraph.
Sunday marks the second anniversary of the horrific Karachi plane crash when a jet from the national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), came down in a residential area after an aborted landing where it briefly scraped along the runway on its engines at high speed.
Mr Masud was one of only two survivors. The remaining 97 crew and passengers all died, along with one person on the ground.
As one of the country’s most prominent bankers, he is used to a world of hard numbers. But in the past two years he has had to come to terms with the life-changing personal enormity of being nearly a sole survivor in a crash where the probabilities seem impossible to reconcile.
“I have no doubts about the fact that it was a miracle,” he explains from his eighth floor office in his bank’s Lahore headquarters. “It can’t be named anything else.”
The crash left him with an abiding survivor’s guilt, but also transformed his view of life.
“This is a bonus life that I am leading,” he says. “I am living in borrowed heaven. I have to make sure that I do all of that stuff, that I am required to do, that leaves a positive impact on people in their lives.”
Mr Masud had only taken charge of the Bank of Punjab a few weeks before the crash, after a prestigious career including stints at American Express, Citibank, Barclays and others.
He took the reins as president and chief executive while the country was in the first wave of Covid lockdowns, and he found himself trying to run a bank by conference calls from his home in Karachi.
He eventually flew to Lahore to lead the bank in person, and by late May was due to fly back to Karachi for the Eid holiday at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
On the morning of May 22, 2020, he had been due to take an early flight, but being a habitual late riser, he changed his ticket to a later flight laid on especially to accommodate the extra Eid traffic.
A new assistant, who did not know Mr Masud’s preference for sitting on the aisle, had booked him a seat next to the window. The banker asked him to change it.
Boarding and take-off took place soon after 1pm and were unusually prompt and speedy. “Everything seems to be in a hurry or on time, as if something is impending,” he recalls.
He worked on the plane and recalls nothing out of the ordinary until they came into land at Karachi.
Instead of landing, the Airbus A320 struck the runway hard three times and took off again to make another approach.
A preliminary air crash investigation found the plane had come in usually fast and steep, as the pilots appeared distracted by a discussion about Covid.
Investigators found that the pilots had lowered the landing gear 10 miles out, but inexplicably raised it again with about five miles to go.
The bumps felt by passengers were the plane scraping along the tarmac on its engines, before taking off again.
Mr Masud said he was not overly alarmed until he noticed the reaction of stewards seated nearby, who were crying and praying.
The pilots tried to bring the plane around again, but the impact on the ground had seriously damaged the engines and they gave out as the plane turned.
At that moment the cockpit door flew open, Mr Masud says, and he could see the plane was not going to make it.
“That’s when I realised the aeroplane is tanking. I realised this is all over now. This will not survive. This is all done,” he said.
Mr Masud says he does not follow religious rituals, but has a strong spiritual faith and often talks to himself.
He said: “I said God it’s all over now, the game is up. Somehow, I got this feedback: ‘Yes, but you will be alright’. I said: ‘How can it be okay? It’s inevitable, it cannot be averted in anyway’. Yes, it’s happening, but you will survive.”
He fainted before impact. He believes he owes his survival to his seat falling out of the plane when it broke up after striking buildings in Karachi’s Model Colony.
His seat appears to have struck a three storey building, before falling onto a car bonnet, which broke the fall. Three people were in the car and helped save him.
“What is the probability when the plane was crashing in that area, that someone would have been sitting in their car as well?” he asks. “Very remote right?”
He was dragged from the burning crash site with nothing more than a badly broken arm and torn ligaments in his knee.
Fainting has spared him psychological injury, he believes, but he has suffered from intense guilt that he survived while others did not.
“I started avoiding the families of the victims and other survivor,” he explains. By default, it makes those ask questions to their God: ‘If this man can be given a miracle, why not our loved ones?’
“This is something that bothered me a lot.”
While convalescing he decided that for his own recovery, and to set an example, he needed to force himself to fly again. He decided to take the same flight on the same route. He again sat in seat 1C. He has since flown dozens of times.
His experience has led him to set up a foundation that will raise awareness for passenger safety and campaign for new laws where needed.
He returned to work at the bank, but says the crash has changed his outlook. The bank now spends more on the arts and he says he is more interested in having a positive impact on people’s lives.
“I keep on reminding myself, that this is a borrowed heaven, this is the gift of my God and I have to owe this back to him,” he said.
“By doing all this stuff that I think, and I think my God agrees with me, are the right things to do.