Pakistan has blocked the head of an airline whose jet crashed near the capital, Islamabad, from leaving the country as it began an investigation today into the country's second major air disaster in less then two years.
The Bhoja Air passenger jet crashed Friday night local time as it tried to land in a thunderstorm at Islamabad’s main airport, killing all 127 people on board.
The 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 that Farooq Bhoja, the head of Bhoja Air, had been put on the "exit control list", meaning he cannot leave Pakistan.
Such a ban is often put on someone suspected or implicated in a criminal case.
Malik said that "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.
Investigators have recovered the flight data recorder of the twin-engine Boeing 737-200, which was carrying 118 passengers and nine crew members, and was on approach to land at the Pakistani capital on a flight from Karachi.
No survivors in Pakistan plane crash
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No survivors in Pakistan plane crash
A Pakistani airliner crashes in bad weather as it prepares to land in Islamabad with 127 people on board.
The jet went down during thunderstorms, and air traffic controllers lost contact about 6.40pm local time, according to GEO TV, which also reported on the retrieval of the black box recording device.
The recorder logs data such as speed and engine performance that will offer clues to the cause of the crash.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered a probe into the accident, while Chicago-based Boeing said it was prepared to send technical experts to assist and the US National Transportation Safety Board said it was in touch with Pakistan officials to offer support.
One witness said the plane was on fire in mid-air before the crash, GEO TV reported.
Parts of the fuselage, a door and at least one body of a woman face down and dressed in a full-body veil were shown in footage aired by CNN.
It was Pakistan's worst air crash since July 2010, when an Airbus SAS jetliner slammed into a rain-soaked hillside at Islamabad, killing all 152 people onboard in the nation's deadliest air disaster.
Two other crashes in the same year killed 33 more, according to Aviation Safety Network's website.
Pakistan has a category 1 safety rating from the US Federal Aviation Administration, which means it meets international standards.
The 737-200 that crashed was at least 24 years old, because Boeing's last delivery of that model was in 1988, according to the planemaker's website.
The accident left closely held Bhoja Air with three aircraft: two 737-200s and one 737-400, Bhoja Air spokesman Salman Tahir said. Boeing stopped making the 737-400 in 2000.
Bhoja Air, based in Karachi, started operations in November 1993 by leasing a Boeing 737-200 and connecting Pakistani cities including Lahore and Quetta, according to the airline's website.
The carrier shut down in 2000 because of financial difficulties and restarted operations last month, Tahir said. Bhoja Air is the second-biggest private carrier in the country.
The US NTSB is gathering information about the accident and "opening up a channel of communication with the folks in Pakistan", spokesman Peter Knudson said.
He said the NTSB didn't yet know its level of involvement.
Boeing said the dispatching of technical specialists to a crash investigation is a common practice with incidents involving a plane it made. The 737 is the world's most widely flown jetliner.