Photo: Express News
A BHOJA AIR 737 carrying 127 passengers and crew was coming in for a landing in a thunderstorm near Islamabad on Friday when it suddenly dropped from 2,900ft (883 metres) to 2,000ft (609 metres), appeared to lose control, hit the ground, bounced up from the impact and exploded, according to witness accounts and government statements. There were no survivors.
In Pakistan, the rush to judgment has already begun. Farooq Bhoja, the head of the airline, has been barred from leaving the country a hint that a criminal investigation may be on the way.
Rehman Malik, the country’s interior minister, has implied that the age of the aeroplane, which has been in service with various airlines for over three decades, may have been a factor. Bhoja Air “seems to be at fault as it had acquired a very old aircraft,” he told the press. But well-maintained planes can last significantly longer than 30 years, and the age of an aircraft is rarely cited as a factor in a fatal crash.
The Associated Press has an excellent story on the crash that takes an appropriately sceptical tone towards Mr Malik’s statements and the three crash probes that have been launched since Friday:
Malik’s comments and the three official investigations appeared to be part of a government effort to move quickly and deflect some of the criticism that it is likely to find itself under in coming days because of the crash.
Such is distrust of the state in Pakistan, few believe the government which lurches from crisis to crisis, clinging to power in the face of a mostly hostile media, opposition and judiciary has the will to hold politically connected people accountable or carry out credible investigations.
A rush to judgment, irresponsible comments from the government and three separate investigations are not going to do much to restore flyers’ confidence in the Pakistani government’s ability to safely regulate its airlines. Pakistan’s state-owned flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, was barred from all EU airports for eight months in 2007, so it’s clear that international air-travel regulators haven’t had the highest opinion of Pakistan’s aviation sector in the past. So far, the chaos following this incidentthe second major crash near Islamabad in as many yearsis only making the Pakistani government and its Civil Aviation Authority look worse.
It is of course possible that Bhoja Air was at fault in Friday’s crash. But other factors could have played a role in this tragedy. Hazardous weather conditions were reported near the airport. Pilot error could have been a factor. It’s impossible for anyone, Mr Malik, the media, or outside experts to know exactly who or what is at fault for this crash before the plane’s black boxes are examined and a full, professional investigation is completed. Let’s wait for that to happen before we decide who deserves the blame.
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