The pilots of a Pakistani airliner that crashed into a residential area of Karachi were distracted by a cockpit conversation about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a minister has said.

The Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A320 had no technical problems and the crash last month, in which 97 people died, was caused by human error.

A preliminary investigation has found that the pilot approached the runway three times as high as would have been normal and ignored directions from air traffic control.

CCTV footage showed the plane scraping along the runway at high speed before taking off again. Photo / Supplied
CCTV footage showed the plane scraping along the runway at high speed before taking off again. Photo / Supplied

The air crew were over-confident and engrossed in conversation about how their families had been affected by the spread of Covid-19, the aviation minister told Pakistan's parliament.

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"The pilot, as well as the [air traffic] controller, didn't follow the standard rules," said Ghulam Sarwar Khan.

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Cockpit recordings showed that the pilots had been discussing the virus as the flight from Lahore approached Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on May 22.

"The pilot and co-pilot were not focused and throughout they were having a conversation about corona. It was on their minds. Their families were affected and they were having a discussion about it," Khan added. "Unfortunately, the pilot was over-confident."

Investigators found the pilots lowered the landing gear 16km out, but inexplicably raised it again with about 8km to go. Air traffic controllers called on the aircraft to abandon its approach, but the crew insisted they were fine.

Pakistani security personnel stand guard near trucks carrying the wreckage of a Pakistan International Airlines plane from the crash site. Photo / AP
Pakistani security personnel stand guard near trucks carrying the wreckage of a Pakistan International Airlines plane from the crash site. Photo / AP

The aircraft then scraped its engines along the tarmac at high speed during an abortive landing. CCTV images show sparks erupting from the engines as they were scraped on the surface before the pilot took off in an attempt to circle back and try again.

The engines had been damaged and failed as the plane tried to gain height. It crashed into residential housing a mile short of the runway. Mr Khan added: "The last words from the pilot were: 'Oh God, oh God, oh God.'"

Everyone on board died except for two passengers who miraculously survived. A resident on the ground also reportedly died from their injuries.

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The county's deadliest aviation accident in eight years came days after domestic commercial flights had resumed following a two-month coronavirus lockdown.

Many of the passengers were on their way to spend the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr with loved ones.

Volunteers look for survivors of a plane that crashed in a residential area of Karachi on May 22. Photo / AP
Volunteers look for survivors of a plane that crashed in a residential area of Karachi on May 22. Photo / AP

PIA was one of the world's leading airlines until the 1970s, but now suffers from a declining reputation due to frequent cancellations, delays and financial troubles.

In 2016, a PIA plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people.

The deadliest air disaster in Pakistan came in 2010 when an Airbus A321, operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi, crashed into the hills of Islamabad as it came in to land, killing all 152 people on board.

Opposition leaders said the government was making the air traffic controllers and dead pilots into scapegoats.

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"Imran Khan used to say if there's train crash the railway minister should be sacked; if there's a plane crash the aviation minister should be sacked," said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

"Now he blames the pilot and air traffic control for the PIA crash. Victim blaming and scapegoatism must end. We demand an independent inquiry. The minister must go."