- Associated Press - Saturday, November 27, 2010

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A cargo plane crashed in flames into a residential area in Pakistan’s largest city soon after takeoff Sunday, killing all eight Russian 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 razing or damaging about 20 buildings. The aircraft narrowly missed hitting several large apartment buildings only a few hundred yards away.

Authorities had recovered three bodies from the smoking rubble by Sunday afternoon, and one laborer still was missing, said navy Commodore Mohammad Musra. Another person on the ground was hospitalized with severe burns, said Dr. Abdul Razak.

The Sudan-bound plane crashed about 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.

In this image made from TV, rescuers are seen at the scene after a cargo plane crashed into a residential area of Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, soon after takeoff on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010, setting off a huge blaze. The aircraft had eight crew on board, the civil aviation authority said. (AP Photo/APTN)
In this image made from TV, rescuers are seen at the scene ... more >

“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 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,” Chief 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, all Russians, were dead.

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,” Rehan Hashmi said.

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.

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