A man comforts a woman who cries over the coffin of her family member who was among those killed in Friday’s passenger plane crash in Islamabad. Authorities have blocked the head of the airline from leaving the country as it began investigating the accident. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: A judicial commission will be set up to probe the plane crash in the suburbs of Islamabad that killed all 127 people on board, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said yesterday.

Gilani made the announcement at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) where the remains of the victims were brought and handed over to relatives after identification.

The prime minister visited PIMS to express solidarity with the relatives of the victims following Friday's crash of a Bhoja Air flight.

Interior Minister Rahman Malek told reporters that Farooq Bhoja, owner of the airline, has been placed on the Exit Control List, which bars him from leaving the country.

Retired air force officer Mujahi-ul-Islam, head the investigation team, said preliminary reports indicate that the aircraft caught fire before crashing.

Flight data recorder

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Director-General Nadeem Yousufzai said the aircraft's "black box" or flight data recorder was recovered and was already sent to authorities concerned. Examination of the recorder's contents might take one month.

"The investigation may not take too long as the landing gear is down and the plane crashed on a flat terrain. Its parts disintegrated over almost 4km area and it will be easier to assemble and examine," Yousufzai said.

"Depending on the type of the crash, the final result of the enquiry may take up to three months to one year," the CAA head said.

He dismissed possibility of harsh weather as the cause of the crash.

"I heard the conversation [between the control tower and the pilot] myself. The tower told the pilot that it was clear to land. The pilot acknowledged and pulled the landing gear down. But immediately after, the communication got lost and the plane started going into a dive," he said. "What happened in this period needs to be investigated."

He added that an Airblue flight landed at Islamabad airport around five minutes after the crash and it was "right behind the Bhoja plane". The visibility was also till 4km, the CAA chief said.

"There could be other reasons too. I won't comment and I'll request you all to refrain from commenting as well. Issuing a statement before the investigation completes can damage the outcome of the enquiry and affect the families of the victims."

International standards

He said that the investigation would be done according to international standards and Bhoja Air has been directed to compensate the victims' families at the earliest.

"We will monitor their progress," Yousufzai said.

Asked whether the CAA was put under political pressure to allow the airline to resume operations, Yousufzai said: "We, as a nation, have a culture of mudslinging. Let me tell you that CAA does not compromise on security."

Bhoja Air started domestic operations in Pakistan in 1993 and eventually operated international flights to the UAE in 1998. The company suspended operations in 2001 due to financial difficulties but resumed operations this year.

DNA testing

He said that of 127 victims, 115 have been identified while DNA testing on 12 others was in progress. 113 bodies have been handed over to the families.

Bhoja Air's B737-200 took off from Karachi airport at 5.05pm and crashed five nautical miles from Islamabad airport on the village of Hussainabad.