Investigators are focusing on the left engine of the Spanair aircraft that crashed on take off at Madrid Barajas airport on Wednesday, killing 153 holidaymakers.

Reports suggest the Spanish aviation authority is examing evidence that metal jettisoned from the engine may have damaged the aircraft’s tail, leading to a loss of control by pilots. The aircraft crashed within moments – fire ripping through the cabin.

The engines on the aircraft, an MD-82, are mounted at the rear.

The departure of the Spanair flight to Gran Canaria had been delayed by more than two hours by a technical fault. Spanish news agencies suggest this was due to a faulty temperature gauge and not a serious problem.

A simple failure of the left engine should not have been enough to cause the crash as the aircraft is designed to take-off on one engine.

Both Spanair and the MD-82 have good safety records. However, the aircraft was 15 years old.

Spanair recently announced more than 1,000 job cuts – about one-third of its workforce. The Spanish airline, part of the SAS Scandinavian Airlines group, denied this may have compromised safety. The carrier said some passengers had cancelled bookings following the disaster.