In a serious setback for the Bhoja Air crash case, the lead investigator passed away earlier this week, leaving behind the job of completing the crucial report to relatively less-experienced officials.
Group Captain Mujahidul Islam died on Monday after fighting cancer for months. He was considered one of the country’s few experts in the field of aircraft crash investigation.
“His departure is a serious blow to the investigations. Now we might never know what actually happened,” said a source closely associated with the case.
Islam was already under treatment for liver problems when Bhoja Air’s Boeing 737 crashed near Islamabad on April 20, last year, killing all 127 people on board.
He was summoned to assist with investigations, considering his expertise. Within months he excused himself from the job as the hectic routine did not suit his deteriorating health.
He had, however, overseen some important parts of the probe, such as the black box’s decoding, and submitted his observation on what could have possibly led to the crash.
Islam was also a key figure in the investigation of the fatal Air Blue crash in 2010.
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials say that the Bhoja crash investigation report will be submitted to the Ministry of Defence sometime next month and released probably on the anniversary of the crash.
But the way the investigation board has worked for the past couple of months has made aviation industry officials skeptical about its findings.
Along with Islam, the second most senior member of the investigation committee, Air Commodore Khawaja A Majeed, has also stopped assisting the case after he retired in September 2012. Majeed was the President of CAA’s Safety Investigation Board (SIB), which is now headed by Air Commodore Abdul Basit.
“Basit has no prior experience of probing crash of a commercial airliner,” said another source, familiar with the investigation. “It has become so easy to manipulate the findings.”
CAA spokesman Abid Qaimkhani said he could not comment on the status of the investigation report. “Mujahidul Islam has just passed away. We will nominate someone else in his place.”
The report is particularly important for the victims’ families who have been seeking compensation for their losses.
Advocate Abdul Razzaq, who is representing around 30 families in their battle for maximum compensation, said that a fair investigation report was imperative to ensure that justice was delivered.
“We need to know who is responsible,” he said, explaining that if Bhoja Air is found responsible for the accident, relatives of the passengers can sue the airline for millions of dollars.
FIA waiting for report
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is also looking forward to an early release of the report to proceed against the airline’s main sponsor and managing director Arshad Jalil, who escaped abroad soon after the crash.
“We can’t proceed with the case until the crash investigation report is ready,” said a senior FIA official. “That is what we need, to gather details about Jalil’s assets and his other business concerns.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2013.