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Travel ban on crash airline boss

Pakistan has 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 massive economic problems.

The Bhoja Air passenger jet crashed on Friday as it tried to land in a thunderstorm at Islamabad's main airport, killing all 127 people 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 their 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.

A representative for Bhoja Air, Jahanzeb Khan, declined to comment on the travel ban against Bhoja and said the airline would discuss the case after the investigation was complete.

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