Plane Crash Kills 127 People Near Pakistan’s Capital

Plane Crash Kills 127 Near Islamabad During Thunderstorms
Pakistani rescue workers search through debris in Hussain Abad after the crash of a Bhoja Air Boeing 737 plane in the outskirts of Islamabad on April 20, 2012. Photographer: Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan barred foreign travel by the owner of the plane involved in the nation’s worst air disaster in almost two years as authorities investigate the cause of the accident.

Farook Omar Bhoja, chairman of Bhoja Air, won’t be allowed to leave the country until investigators determine the cause of the crash, which killed all 127 people on board, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters. Salman Tahir, a Bhoja Air spokesman, declined to comment on the travel ban.

The disaster occurred as the twin-engine Boeing Co. 737-200 carrying 118 passengers and 9 crew members was on approach to land at the Pakistani capital on a flight from Karachi, Pakistan, said Tahir. Officials will complete identification of the victims using DNA tests today, Malik said.

The jet went down during thunderstorms, and air traffic controllers lost contact about 6:40 p.m. local time, according to GEO TV, which also reported on the retrieval of the flight data recorder. The so-called black box logs data such as speed and engine performance that will offer clues to the cause of the crash.

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari ordered a probe into the accident, while Chicago-based Boeing said it was prepared to send technical experts to assist and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was in touch with Pakistan officials to offer support.

One eyewitness said the plane was on fire before the crash, GEO TV reported. Parts of the fuselage, a door and at least one body of a woman facedown and dressed in a full-body veil were shown in footage aired by CNN.

Safety Standards

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 on board in the nation’s deadliest air disaster. Two other accidents in the same year killed 33 others, according to AviationSafety Network’s website.

Pakistan has a category 1 safety rating from the U.S. 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 Chicago-based planemaker’s website. Tahir, the spokesman, didn’t immediately have the age of the jet.

The accident left closely held Bhoja Air with three aircraft: two 737-200s and one 737-400, Tahir said. Boeing stopped making the 737-400 in 2000.

Financial Difficulties

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 U.S. NTSB is gathering information about the accident and “opening up a channel of communication with the folks in Pakistan,” said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the agency in Washington. The NTSB didn’t yet know its level of involvement, Knudson said yesterday.

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.

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