Islamabad: Over a day after a plane crashed in Pakistan, the officials are looking for reasons that led to the disaster and claimed the lives of all 127 people on board.
The Islamabad-bound Bhoja Air passenger jet was on the airline’s maiden flight from Karachi city to Islamabad. It was carrying 118 passengers and nine crew members when it crashed on Friday in stormy weather minutes before it was to land at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport at 7 pm. All on board died.
The small domestic airline, which resumed operations in March after an 11-year pause, has said bad weather was the cause of the crash.
However, an initial report hints at a technical fault as the reason behind the crash.
The report revealed that the plane caught fire mid-air, and almost certainly exploded before the debris hit the ground.
The Civil Aviation Authority, meanwhile, has another theory.
Addressing a news conference, Civil Aviation Authority director general Nadeem Yousufzai said the Bhoja Air plane went into a sudden dive shortly before it disappeared from the radar screen and slammed into the ground.
Bhoja Air's flight B4-213 from Karachi to Islamabad suddenly dropped from 2,900 feet to 2,000 feet after it was cleared to land at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Yousufzai said.
"It just went down into a dive...That has to be investigated. What was the reason, was it a downdraft or an engine failure?" he said.
The reason for the dive would be established by the investigation that has been ordered by the government, he added.
The initial probe report submitted to the Ministry of Interior had claimed that the captain of the ill-fated Bhoja Air plane had informed the control tower that the plane was getting out of his control three minutes before the tragedy.
The plane was flying at an altitude of 2,000 metres when it had last contacted the control tower, the report added.
On Saturday, Pakistan blocked the head of Bhoja Air from leaving the country and ordered him into protective custody as it began an investigation into its second major air disaster in less than two years.
Speaking at the scene of the crash, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Farooq Bhoja, head of Bhoja Air, had been put on the "exit control list”, meaning he can't leave Pakistan. Such a ban is often put on someone suspected or implicated in a criminal case. He said Bhoja had been ordered into protective custody and a criminal investigation launched into the incident.
He later said that the airline "seems to be at fault as it had acquired a very old aircraft”.
"If the airline management doesn't have enough money it doesn't mean you go and buy a 30-year-old or more aircraft as if it were a rickshaw and start an airline."
Separately, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said he has ordered a judicial commission to probe the accident and said, "It is not fair to reach any conclusion without a proper investigation."
Bhoja Air started domestic operations in Pakistan in 1993 and eventually expanded to international flights to the United Arab Emirates in 1998. The company suspended operations in 2001 due to financial difficulties but resumed them in 2012.
According to the website www.airfleets.net, the Bhoja jet was 32 years old and first saw service with British Airways in South Africa. Thirty-two years is not especially old for an aircraft, and age by itself is rarely an important factor in crashes, said Nasim Ahmed, a former crash investigator.
First Published: Sunday, April 22, 2012, 10:14