The owner of the aircraft that crashed near the federal capital on Friday evening killing all 127 on board was detained on Saturday and barred by the government from leaving the country as speculations spread thick and fast about the airworthiness of the aeroplane, which is now being called a “flying coffin”.

As the grieving families of those killed went about the painful task of identifying the mangled bodies and burying them, Interior Minister Rehman Malik's comment that the airline seemed to be at fault because it had acquired a very old aircraft gave credence to speculations about the airworthiness of the Boeing 737-200.

“If the airline management does not have enough money it does not mean you buy a 30-year-old aircraft as if it were a rickshaw and start an airline,” Mr. Malik told reporters; adding that the owner of Bhoja Air, Farooq Bhoja, had been put on the Exit Control List that bars him from leaving the country. However, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani — who has ordered a judicial enquiry into the crash — said it was not advisable to jump to conclusions without a proper enquiry.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that the pilot had warned of an emergency soon after he was cleared by the Air Traffic Control (ATC) for landing. In the last communication that the ATC got from the aircraft, the co-pilot was reportedly heard saying “we have lost control of the plane”. Three minutes later, the aircraft crashed into a farming community near the Chaklala Airbase of the Pakistan Air Force.

While the airworthiness of the 27-year-old aircraft is under question, pilots and air accident experts told the Dawn newspaper that the crash was fairly consistent with what could have been caused by a wind shear. “Unfortunately neither the ageing aircraft nor the ill-equipped airport had wind shear detection systems that could have forewarned the pilots and ground controllers.”

Wind shear is a meteorological phenomenon involving fast changing wind patterns, mostly downdrafts, that could cause a landing aircraft to lose speed and altitude. The Meteorological Department confirmed wind shear in the area near the airport at the time of the crash. The wind shear cause has given rise to the possibility of a microburst — a very localised column of sinking air that has caused at least eight air crashes since 1956 and most of them have taken place near airports; five of them in the U.S.

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