Pakistan acts against airline after crash

Pakistan blocked the head of an airline whose jet crashed near the capital from leaving the country as it began an investigation Saturday into the country’s second major air disaster in less then two years.

The Bhoja Air passenger jet crashed Friday as it tried to land in a thunderstorm at Islamabad’s main airport, killing all 127 people on board. The small domestic airline, which resumed operations in March after an 11-year pause, has said the weather was the cause.

Speaking at the scene of the crash, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Saturday 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.

Malik said, “It is being said that the aircraft was pretty old, so it has been ordered to investigate thoroughly the air worthiness of the Bhoja Air aircraft.”

“The causes will be investigated, whether it was any fault in the aircraft, it was lightning, the bad weather or any other factor that caused loss of precious lives,” he said. The plane’s flight data recording systems, key to any investigation, have been recovered.

Looking for bodies
Soldiers and emergency workers at first light began the grim task of looking for bodies and body parts among the debris from the Boeing 737-200, which was spread out over a 1km stretch of wheat farms around 5km from the Benazir Bhutto International Airport.

The plane was on a flight from the southern city of Karachi to Islamabad when it crashed at dusk.

One soldier had a plastic bag over his hand and was picking up small bits of flesh. Another was using a stick.

“We are collecting these so that the souls are not desecrated,” one of them said.

The last major plane crash in the country — and Pakistan’s worst occurred in July 2010 when an Airbus A321 aircraft operated by domestic carrier Airblue crashed into the hills overlooking Islamabad, killing all 152 people aboard. A government investigation blamed the pilot for veering off course amid stormy weather.

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.

Nasim Ahmed, a former crash investigator, said it appeared that the age and air worthiness of the plane were unlikely causes. He said that a combination of factors during the most crucial stage of the flight, the landing, was probably to blame, possibly the weather or some form of unexpected incident that caused the pilot to lose vital awareness of the plane’s location. — Sapa-AP

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