Bhoja Air crash: Officials differ over the events that led to crash

Published: April 22, 2012

Rescue workers combing the site for bodies from the site of the plane crash. EXPRESS TRIBUNE PHOTO/MYRA IQBAL

ISLAMABAD: 

From what the initial probe report indicates, a possible reason for Friday’s tragic Bhoja Air crash that killed 127 people was a technical fault.

The report states that the aircraft caught fire mid-air, and most likely exploded before the debris hit the ground.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), however, indicated the contrary. CAA Director General (DG) Nadeem Yousufzai, while talking to the media on Saturday, categorically said that the airfield was visible despite harsh weather and the plane’s captain had been given a green signal for landing.

“After this it was the pilot’s discretion to land or not,” said Yousafzai, indicating that it was not a technical fault but rather the pilot’s indiscretion.

He said that an Airblue flight landed on the same runway two minutes after flight B 213’s crash.

The initial probe report submitted to the ministry of interior said that the plane lost height and came down to 2,000 feet at 300 miles per hour. The pilot informed the central aviation officials he lost control over the aircraft but soon lost contact with the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower at 6:40 pm, after which it crashed.

Some of the witnesses at Hussainabad village, the crash site, also told The Express Tribune that they saw the plane catching fire mid-air.

However, Yousafzai ruled out the possibility of the plane catching fire and exploding in air. After listening to the conversation between the pilot and the control tower and visiting the crash site, Yousafzai suggested “the aircraft hit the ground and bounced off before crashing”. In the face of such contradictions, a CAA official did say the preliminary report was only a starting point and could not be relied upon to fix responsibility entirely. Vital evidence – in the form of that gained from the plane’s Black Box and voice recorder recovered from the crash site – is still to be included and investigated.

“The plane looked like a fire ball descending onto the earth like a meteor,” the official said, quoting the report.

The Koral police station SHO said, “They (investigators) visited today and asked us not to remove the wreckage for two more days,” in order to continue investigations. The bodies, however, have been removed from the crash site.

Refusing to comment on the progress of the inquiry committee headed by Group Capt (retd) Mujahidul Islam, the head of the CAA Safety Investigation Board and a veteran aviation investigator, Yousafzai said the aircraft was flight-worthy regardless of its age.

“CAA experts gave the plane a proper fitness certificate before it took off from Karachi,” he said. “Flight safety is not often linked with a plane’s age. It depends on the suitability for flight.”

Yousafzai added that the CAA was in contact with Bhoja for paying compensation to victims’ families. He said the CAA gave clearance to Bhoja Air to resume services following full payment of its pending dues. However, some CAA officials claimed that certain members of the authority’s high command were not willing to grant the clearance but were pressurised.

Bhoja Air’s CEO Arshad Jalil allegedly used his contacts in government circles to get the clearance. However, there was no on-record confirmation of this information.

Besides positing possible reasons for the crash, the initial report also prompted the Islamabad police to act quickly and book the owner of Bhoja Air, Farooq Bhoja.

Bhoja detained

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) appeared to act on this advice promptly, at least partially. The agency detained the airline’s chairman Bhoja for questioning on Saturday. Bhoja dropped a bombshell, however, by telling the authorities that he owns only 5 per cent of the airline’s shares, while 80 per cent of the shares are owned by Jalil, his wife and his son.

Bhoja told investigators that Jalil has previously been MD for defunct airline Aero Asia and was also the CEO of Shaheen Air. He added that Jalil is currently in China with his wife. He said that the remaining 15 per cent of shares are owned equally by directors Zeeshan Karimi and Muzahir Hussain.

On the instructions of the interior ministry, the FIA has registered an inquiry in the Corporate Crime Circle. Sindh FIA Director Moazzam Jah Ansari told Express that the airline’s records and the certification of the aircraft have been taken into custody from his office and are being examined.

PM orders judicial probe

Bhoja seems to be in as much trouble as his airline. A judicial commission was formed by the interior ministry on the directives of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Saturday to probe the crash.

The three-member judicial commission, headed by Justice (retd) Zahid Hussain includes Justice (retd) Wasim Kausar and Justice Naseem Sikandar. The commission will decide whether Bhoja Air will be allowed to continue operations, investigate the aircraft’s track record and chalk out a strategy to prevent such accidents in the future.

President Asif Ali Zardari also summoned the defence minister on Saturday and order that inquiries be made into progress as far as facilitating victims’ families is concerned. (WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SUMERA KHAN IN ISLAMABAD AND ADIL JAWAD IN KARACHI)

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2012.

Reader Comments (30)

  • Sonya
    Apr 22, 2012 - 10:07AM

    This is an easy case of micro-burst. No need to go around theories and conspiracies. Pilot can be blamed for making a wrong decision to proceed to land through a thick wall of water, lightning and the killer micro-burst. Owners can be blamed for using an old aircraft if it did not have an airborne radar for micro-burst detection. CAA can be blamed for not stopping the pilot for this suicidal landing and for not having the ground radar for detection of these killer micro-burst around the airport.

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  • amir
    Apr 22, 2012 - 11:18AM

    The easiest person to blame is the Captain. In most cases unfortunately it is human error. However in this age we live in, esp Pakistan, we must also investigate the role of the owners, the CAA officials who gave this airplane (whose body is already written off: http://www.planespotters.net/Production_List/Boeing/737/23167,AP-BKC-Bhoja-Airlines.php) air worthiness certificate, also act of God (weather), etc.

    Last night was hearing news that the cockpit voice recorder is missing? So the conspiracies start. This voice recorder will tell all what happened after control tower gave it the green signal.

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  • Sharjeel Jawaid, Karachi, Pakistan
    Apr 22, 2012 - 11:28AM

    Will anyone in authority, have a look at the age of planes being flown by Bhoja. Obviously CAA did not when according an airline license to Bhoja! And they should be the first onthe list to take reponsibility as the top aviation regulatory body in Pakistan.
    The model B 737-200 is from late sixties. It is already reported that these machines were retired by Shaheen Air.

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  • Hakeem
    Apr 22, 2012 - 11:32AM

    So Mr. Rehman Malik (Dr.) didn’t know that Mr. Bhoja only owns 5% of the shares? Perhaps in order to grab news headlines he initiated action against BHOJA while letting the actual owners off the hook!

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  • Ozzie
    Apr 22, 2012 - 11:34AM

    @amir, the website is updated that’s why airframe status is written off after the crash

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  • Dan
    Apr 22, 2012 - 11:37AM

    @Sonya:

    you are highly, highly incorrect. He could not have landed is not given clear to land by the ATC and weather conditions checked. Additionally there is a weather plate per airfield per airport that shows you minimum weather conditions for landing.
    If the conditions on the plate are not met, no one lands. It’s really how these things work.

    Additionally, there is no way to know beforehand about a micro burst. None whatsoever. No tool. You cannot predict this. So that is wrong of you as well.
    Also, there wasnt a wall of water. Just normal rain. If this is the case, half the flights in europe would never land.
    I dont know why people like you can make such claims by not knowing what they are talking about period.

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  • Usman Shahid
    Apr 22, 2012 - 12:13PM

    The easiest way is to blame dead pilot and move on for the next crash.

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  • Cautious
    Apr 22, 2012 - 12:32PM

    It’s unfortunate that few officials have any credibility in Pakistan — if you were smart you would outsource the entire investigation to the USA — but that wouldn’t be fashionable so you will go through the std Pakistani investigation – long, lots of leaks, and conclusions that few will believe. Go figure.

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  • farhan
    Apr 22, 2012 - 2:06PM

    The article correctly raises a point that just after two minutes of crash another private airline landed safely….So why everyone including media is blaming weather….I don’t think the plane was airworthy….But like other things the current is not interested in anything…nothing will happen…It will be brush aside….Viva Thief Democracy..

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Apr 22, 2012 - 2:17PM

    @Dan:

    You are completely wrong and Sonya is right.

    The EGPWS CAN give you a warning if it detects a wind-shear. It will display it visually (in RED!) and call it out in clear terms. However, unless this aircraft was retro-fitted, it would not have this warning system on board.

    There ARE at most major airports around the world (but not in Islamabad) weather monitoring systems that can warn of potential micro-bursts and wind-shear.

    The plane was doing 300 MPH??!! Why do people make such daft statements? At 300MPH if he had lowered his flaps and gear, they would have been damaged! He was on approach and if he was 5-7 miles out he would be slowing towards his VREF speed which is his target speed at the runway threshold. That is calculated before-hand.

    It is possible to escape from a down-burst. But he was low and slow. Jet engines take time to spool up and reach full power. The more important question is whether the pilots were trained to respond to a micro-burst. Their training records need to be inspected.

    The black box is NOT missing. It will be sent to Boeing on Saturday.

    Even though the AB accident report needed a court-order, it was a great precedent and there can be no secrets anymore.

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  • mona
    Apr 22, 2012 - 2:50PM

    easy to talk and blame….i think its not the need of hour,,,,it wont bring them back,,,,just pray for them and thier families,…and PRAY FOR MERCY FROM ALLAH ALMIGHTY…..
    JUst be loyal to ur jobz……ur one mistake can couse such great number of peoplz death

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  • Parvez
    Apr 22, 2012 - 3:03PM

    In a country where laws are not followed, procedures to safeguard the common man are treated with disdain, governance is nonexistent then, catastrophes like this are bound to happen.

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  • Amer
    Apr 22, 2012 - 3:11PM

    Hi all,

    The real problem is not the standards, regulatory authority or the owners responsibility in this particular accident. Most likely the accident was caused by a microburst (whether) on finals which occurs near thunderstorms. A microburst varies from one to another meaning vertical speed downdraft, which at times no aircraft can recover from, not even a 0 meter B777/ A380 the most advance aircraft in the worlds. What one has to investigate why did the captain decide to continue to land at ISB was there a windshear warning which is associated with microburst, windshear is readable by the instruments only once you are in it on the B737-200 because of it’s old technology . Pilots are trained to identify the windshear early and discontinue the landing. My concern is the aircraft that landed after the accident within only 5 mins. When the same thing could have reoccurred……could it be training standards that we are missing….

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  • Usman Shahid
    Apr 22, 2012 - 3:17PM

    Every tv reporter is trying to become plane crash investigator. I have expressed it in my new cartoon. Check out the link

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150715535139398&set=a.175107459397.121913.662609397&type=1&theater

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  • ishrat salim
    Apr 22, 2012 - 3:26PM

    This is an unfortunate incident & may Allah swt bless them all…but what is not understandable is the media coverage this issue is getting…there is death & killings all over KP, Karachi & Baluchistan & the amount of sympathy & grievness has not poured out to people killed in these places as in the case of AB & now BA….bcz they are from poor background…few drops of crocodile tears are shed & life goes on….search yr souls…my friends…all are human beings…rich & poor…their lives are as precious as the the rich people who can travel by air….the day incidents of killings are shifted from the poor localities ( & I pray it will one day..inshaAllah )to the rich localities of KP, Karachi,Lahore, R/Islbad & Baluchistan….killings will STOP..Recommend

  • Asif
    Apr 22, 2012 - 3:35PM

    The picture clearly shows catastrophic structural failure in mid-air i.e. aircraft broke up in mid-air resulting in loss of control and fire from 20 minutes of fuel left per FAA guidelines. You need this extra fuel in case the plane needs to be diverted to other nearest airport.
    If it was microburst the plane would have hit ground with huge hole on the ground and most of the plane would have been in one piece. The fact that debris was scattered so widely means engines were working till the point of impact with sufficient forward momentum.
    FAA requires plane stored in specialized material in zero humidity and hot/dry climate year around. It was reported that this plane was “parked” in Karachi for years. Salt in the air and humidity has likely rusted away the aircraft. If other Bhoja Airplanes were stored in similar ways then they need to be grounded “immediately”. In fact they MUST BE GROUNDED IMMEDIATELY.
    CAA, Shaheen Maintenance and the Government knowingly let these people die and are liable for …..
    ex-Aviation Industry Senior Scientist – USA

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Apr 22, 2012 - 3:49PM

    @Dan:

    Furthermore, it is irrelevant whether ATC cleared the a/c to land or not. The final authority in the matter is the captain. HE decides whether to continue the approach or execute a “go-around”, irrespective of whether he is the PF or PNF.

    Sonya does know what she is talking about. I presume she is a she! Smart girl and knowledgeable.

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  • amir
    Apr 22, 2012 - 3:56PM

    @Ozzie
    I stand corrected.

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  • Usman Shahid
    Apr 22, 2012 - 4:24PM

    Check out the complete media reporting on plane crash in the form of some cartoons :(

    http://fazoolstuff.blogspot.com/2012/04/pakistani-media-going-to-irresponsible.html

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  • Zak
    Apr 22, 2012 - 4:51PM

    @Asif:
    “aircraft broke up in mid-air resulting in loss of control and fire from 20 minutes of fuel left per FAA guidelines”
    Very good analysis Asif. This might also explain local witnesses seeing a ‘meteor like’ fireball as the plane was plummeting.

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  • lama H
    Apr 22, 2012 - 5:07PM

    My thoughts and prayers with all victims’s relatives from karatchi to Islamabad, may Allah support them and grant them strengh in this critical time that they are going throu. Inna lilah wa inna ilaihi rageoun ( We are all God’s creatures and we are all getting back to Him).
    Sabr pakistani people.
    Lama Syria

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  • asif
    Apr 22, 2012 - 5:55PM

    hi slaam to all aviators, i think bhoja airline crash is a typical example of structural failure in air,though microbust phenomenon being culprit cannt be ruled out of equation,which r short lived downdrafts with velocity of 6000 feet per min but there is still possibility that in same situation had it been a newer aircraft with better quality structure might have survived, my assumption is based on the story told by eye witnesses who said ” aircraft was on fire in air’ and the scattered debris of aircraft,actually as a nation we r not safety conscious, we feel ashamed of wearing safety belt during driving, we hardly care about airbags in our road vehicles , same mindset we carry to aviation too, one of the recommendation after airblue crash was to have ILS equipment for RW12 but still we dont see any move forward in this regard, we as a nation are slow learner rather we dont learn at all from our mistakes.

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  • Nisar
    Apr 22, 2012 - 6:04PM

    Thanks Tribune and the bloggers above. I have flown with Noor, the captain … one of the best instructors I have come across. In fact he could easily be compared with best British pilots I have flown with.

    One of my colleague who was onboard he tried to call on his mobile One could assess the time from chaos to crash that he could press dial shortly before crash.

    Being an aviation accident investigator I could have interpreted the evidence from wreckage pics but I would hold any comment at least till FDR and CVR transcripts are available from authentic sources.

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Apr 22, 2012 - 9:08PM

    “Catastrophic structural failure in mid-air”?

    Guy needs to be immediately employed in the air accident branch of the highest and most respected agency in the world!

    Praise be God for such nuggets of wisdom.

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  • PakPower
    Apr 23, 2012 - 12:09AM

    This article below discusses several possible theories quite well…personally I think the crash was because of a pilot error: inaugural flight, rusty pilots, inexperienced crew (period).

    http://relegated007.blogspot.com/2012/04/what-happened-to-bhoja-air-flight-213.htmlRecommend

  • Acorn Guts
    Apr 23, 2012 - 12:23PM

    @Meekal Ahmed:
    Jet engines don’t take much time to spool up. If it were the case all the last minute go-arounds at VREF won’t be possible. Besides with flaps and slats down, you don’t need much thrust to create lift.
    Early warning systems can warn you of windshear yes but still you cannot predict or know that a microburst is imminent so sonya is not correct. Captain could only guess how things would turn out .. He wouldn’t know. Bad timing, maybe; staight forward case of micro burst, hardly.
    @Asif:
    No the plane wasn’t parked at karachi for years, it only arrived in pakistan jan 2012.

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  • naseer
    Apr 23, 2012 - 12:30PM

    its the mr bhoja and CAA authority mistake how they permission this airline to fly they know that this was not able to fly and their measurement meter also death

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  • rehan
    Apr 23, 2012 - 1:48PM

    SHAME on PIA authorities for demanding transportation charges of the dead bodies.They could’ve taken the addresses of the NOKs and sent them a bill later on(if AT ALL it was required)when their sorrow subsided(of course it will never end).SHAME again!

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  • hussain
    Apr 24, 2012 - 11:12AM

    Can we afford to fly a top of the line airliner like 777 or AB330 with a pilot rating more then 10.000 hrs PIC and co-pilot rating at least 3000 hrs PIC along with comprehensive insurance and zero liability and still manage to charge just 7125 rupees from Karachi to Islamabad???? Dear , this is a cheap air;line so you going to get a cheap old airplane with a side lined aircrew and no insurance at all,Cheap things are Cheap because they are Cheap, and costly things are costly because they are not cheap,,,This was the risk we were taking for quite a along time,, As in aviation there is a saying,,”Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong in the worst possible way”

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  • Baleegh
    Apr 25, 2012 - 2:06AM

    After just reading about the news my heart is filled with grief and i pray to Allah that He will bless the departed souls and give relief to the relatives. A joint death of this size of 127 people dead instantly even young childrens, even infants and over 50 women at the same time is really a news of sorrow and grief, my heart is really weeping for those who lost their lives in this tragic flight. Bhut Sakhat Afsoos Ho Raha Hay……………………..

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