ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Officials on Saturday barred the head of the airline whose jet crashed near the capital from leaving the country, vowing to investigate a tragedy that has revived fears about the safety of aviation in a country saddled by huge economic problems.
The Bhoja Air passenger jet crashed Friday evening as it tried to land in a thunderstorm at Islamabad's main airport, killing all 127 on board. The second major air disaster close to the capital in less than two years, the crash triggered fresh criticism of an already-embattled government, which faced questions over why it gave a license to the tiny airline just last month.
Sobbing relatives of those who died flocked to a hospital in Islamabad to collect the remains of loved ones.
"We had no idea they would be called for eternal rest," said Sardar Aftaz Khan, who was trying to secure the release of the bodies of her mother, an aunt, and a nephew.
Speaking after visiting the scene of the crash, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Farooq Bhoja, the head of Bhoja Air, had been put on the "exit control list," which bars him from leaving Pakistan. Such a ban is often put on someone suspected or implicated in a criminal case.
Malik said Bhoja had been ordered into protective custody and a criminal investigation launched into the crash, presumably running alongside the one being carried out by aviation authorities.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also ordered a third probe, known as a judicial commission, into the accident.
Nadeem Yousufzai, the head of the Civil Aviation Authority, urged people not to speculate on the cause of the crash before all the evidence had been collected.
He said he had listened to a recording of the conversation between the pilot and the control tower and said the pilot was in a "happy" mood. He said the weather was bad, but noted that another plane landed safely at the airport five minutes after the crash.
He denied there was any "political pressure" in the awarding of the license to Bhoja Air, one of just three private airlines in Pakistan. The airline only recently received a permit and began flying last month after it lost its license in 2001 because of financial difficulties.
Malik, the interior minister, appeared to back up theories aired by some in the media that the age of the aircraft may have been a factor, saying the airline "seems to be at fault as it had acquired a very old aircraft."
"If the airline management doesn't have enough money, it doesn't mean you go and buy a 30-year-old-or-more aircraft as if it were a rickshaw and start an airline," he said.
According to the website www.airfleets.net, the Bhoja jet was 32 years old and first saw service with British Airways in South Africa.