Death from above in Lagos: Airplane crash kills all 153 on board

June 4th, 2012 by Staff

(theglobeandmail.com)The cause of the Dana Air crash remained unknown Sunday night, as firefighters and police struggled to put out the flames around the wreckage of the Boeing MD83 aircraft. Authorities could not control the crowd of thousands gathered around to see the crash site, with some crawling over the plane’s broken wings and standing on a still-smouldering landing gear.

Harold Demuren, the director-general of Nigeria’s Civil Aviation Authority, said all on board the flight were killed in the crash. Lagos state government said in a statement that 153 people were on the flight travelling from Nigeria’s central capital of Abuja to Lagos in the nation’s southwest.

The flight’s pilots radioed to the Lagos control tower just before the crash, saying the plane had engine trouble, a military official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

Rescue officials feared many others were killed or injured on the ground, but no casualty figures were immediately available. Firefighters and local residents were seen carrying the corpse of a man from one building, its walls still crumbling and flames shooting from its roof more than an hour after the crash.

President Goodluck Jonathan later declared three days of national mourning in Africa’s most populous nation.

The aircraft appeared to have landed on its belly in the densely populated neighbourhood that sits along the typical approach path taken by aircraft heading into Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport. The plane tore through roofs, sheared a mango tree and rammed into a woodworking studio, a printing press and at least two large apartment buildings in the neighbourhood before stopping.

A white, noxious cloud rose from the crash site that burned onlookers’ eyes, as pieces of the plane lay scattered around the muddy ground.

While local residents helped carry fire hoses to the crash site, the major challenges of life in oil-rich Nigeria quickly became apparent as there wasn’t any water to put out the flames more than three hours later. Some young men carried plastic buckets of water to the fire, trying to douse small portions. Fire trucks, from the very few that are stationed in Lagos state, couldn’t carry enough water. Officials commandeered water trucks from nearby construction sites, but they became stuck on the narrow, crowded roads, unable to reach the crash site.

Nigeria, home to more than 160 million people, suffers from endemic government corruption and mismanagement. The nation also has a history of major aviation disasters, though in recent years there hasn’t been a crash.

But many travellers remain leery of some airlines. On Saturday night, a Nigerian Boeing 727 cargo airliner crashed in Accra, the capital of Ghana, slamming into a bus and killing 10 people. The plane belonged to Lagos-based Allied Air Cargo. Officials with Lagos-based Dana Air did not respond to calls for comment Sunday night. The airline has five aircraft in its fleet and runs both regional and domestic flights. Local media reported a similar Dana flight in May made an emergency landing at the Lagos airport after having a hydraulic problem.

Sunday’s crash appeared to be the worst since September, 1992, when a military transport plane crashed into a swamp shortly after takeoff from Lagos. All 163 army soldiers, relatives and crew members on board were killed.

As night began to fall Sunday, more and more worried relatives of passengers arrived in the neighbourhood, pushing their way down the crowded, narrow streets to make it to the crash site. One man stopped to ask about the crash, whether any passengers walked away alive.

His eyes grew wide when he heard no one escaped alive, his hand rising to his mouth. His brother was on board.

“Oh God, we lost him,” the man whispered, before slowly walking away.


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