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Judicial probe ordered into plane crash

April 21, 2012


A view of wreckage of passenger plane of Bhoja Airline crashed near Lohi Bhair at Hussainabad village about 7 kms away from Benazir Bhutto International Airport carrying 118 passengers flying from Karachi to Islamabad.           — APP photo by Abdullah Bai

ISLAMABAD: The government constituted a three-member judicial commission on Saturday to probe the plane crash that killed 127 people the previous day.

The Karachi-Islamabad flight of the Bhoja Air had crashed in a village near Islamabad minutes before landing at Benazir Bhutto International Airport.

The government also placed Bhoja Air’s owner, Farooq Bhoja, on the exit control list (ECL).

According to a notification issued on Saturday night, the commission will be headed by a former chief justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice (retd) Syed Zahid Hussain. It will initiate the inquiry within one week and complete its task in two months.

Justice (retd) Nasim Sikandar and a secretary, to be appointed by the ministry of interior, will be other members of the commission.The notification came after a statement by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during his visit to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), where he had gone to console the heirs of those who were killed in the crash.

According to its terms of reference, the commission has been given the task “to inquire into the circumstances of awarding licence to Bhoja Air for operating passengers and to determine the circumstances and procedure for buying the passenger aircraft from South Africa”.

The commission has also been asked “to find out the airworthiness of the crashed aircraft”.

The notification further said the government had authorised the commission “to inquire any other dimension of the incident” and had also given it the power to “summon” any record or person to “record evidence”.

The commission has also been tasked to formulate “recommendations for remedial measures, which could put an end to such incidents” in future.

All the “concerned authorities or departments of the federal government as well as the provincial governments” have been directed to assist the commission in discharge of its functions.

Although the commission has been given two months for completion of inquiry, the period may further be extended by the federal government on “its own or at the instance of the commission”.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told newsmen earlier in the day that the name of Farooq Bhoja, the owner of the Bhoja Air, had been placed on the ECL.

He said the causes of the crash would be thoroughly investigated to look into all the aspects and the probe would determine whether the crash took place because of any fault in the aircraft, bad weather and lightning or due to any other factor.

The minister said the plane’s flight data recording system, which is considered a key to any investigation, had been found. He said the Pims authorities and the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) had helped the victims’ relatives in getting DNA test done and in completion of other formalities necessary for identification of bodies.

The Islamabad police has registered a case against Bhoja Air and its owner for alleged ‘criminal negligence’.

Sources told Dawn the case had been registered at the Kurral police station in Islamabad on a complaint of SHO Inspector Mehboob Ahmed under Sections 302 (murder), 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 286 (negligent conduct with respect to explosive substance), 287 (negligent conduct with respect to machinery), 109 (punishment of abetment, if the act abetted committed in consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment) and 427 (damage to the valuables worth Rs50 and above) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

According to the sources, the FIR stated the plane was 27 to 28 years old and had remained grounded for a long time. The aircraft caused loss of life and damage due to “criminal conspiracy” of the Bhoja Air’s owner Farooq Bhoja, other officials of the airline, its technical staff and other representatives, the FIR  said.

Faisal Bashir Memon, Superintendent of Police (rural circle), told Dawn that the police had registered a case and started investigation. He said the investigation would be conducted to determine whether any “criminal act” was committed.

The sources said police were making efforts to get the record about the flight from control tower of Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Civil Aviation Authority and Bhoja Air for investigation purposes.

The sources quoted the preliminary investigation report prepared by police as saying that the plane caught fire after hurtling to the ground. Later, it burnt in the air before hitting the earth again.

The crash caused a ditch spanning several metres in length. The report, which will be submitted to the IGP, further states that fire had already erupted in one of the engines before the plane crashed.

The sources said that an official of Boeing, the manufacturer of the ill-fated aircraft, had approached the CAA, asking for an examination of the crash site and the wreckage of its 737-200 airliner.

Upon receiving the request, the CAA has asked police not to shift the wreckage from the crash site. The sources said that the Boeing company wanted to conduct a separate inquiry to find out the cause of the tragedy.

A police contingent has been deployed in the area to protect the wreckage.

SEARCH FOR BODIES: The police had been asked to continue the search for bodies because remains of 11 passengers were still missing. The search teams comprising personnel of Rescue 1122, Civil Defence and police had recovered remains of 116 passengers and shifted them to hospital. Of them, 108 have been identified and handed over to their legal heirs.

A medical team, including the medico-legal officer at Pims Farrukh Kamal, found no burn marks on the body parts of the deceased passengers.

Samples for DNA tests were taken from each body part and finger prints from the available hands of the victims were taken for identification, said Mr Kamal. The samples of family members of the victims who did not get the bodies of their love ones had been taken for matching, he said.

Islamabad’s Deputy Commissioner Amir Ahmed Ali said the yet-to-identified bodies had been shifted to a cold storage in I-10 sector.

Talking to newsmen after visiting Pims, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that a judicial commission was being set up to probe the incident.

“We cannot conclude anything till investigations are complete,” he said, terming the crash a big tragedy after the Siachen incident.

In reply to a question, Mr Gilani said it was the responsibility of the airline to provide compensation to crash victims because it was covered under insurance. He said the government would take steps to ensure compensation to the bereaved families from the airline.

Later, the prime minister took an aerial view of Hussainabad village where the plane had crashed.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira also visited the crash site. Talking to newsmen, he dispelled a perception being created in the media that the government was hiding any facts. He said facts and causes of the plane tragedy would be made public.

In reply to a question, the minister said all the facts of the Airblue plane crash had already been made public.

He said the relatives of the victims would stay at a camp set up by the Pakistan Baitul Maal and they would be fully facilitated there.

In response to another question, Mr Kaira said the age of an aircraft was not a standard anywhere in the world and only its proper maintenance was required to keep it flying.

President Asif Ali Zardari called Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar to inquire about the progress in providing facilities to the affected families.