Posted by JOHN NWOKOCHA on
THE pertinent question being asked following the Bellview Flight 210 disaster, is what next after the national mourning? Sunday Vanguard investigations revealed that excavation of the remains of the crashed aircraft which claimed 117 lives on October 22, at Lisa in Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State could not materialise last Monday, due to rains.
THE pertinent question being asked following the Bellview Flight 210 disaster, is what next after the national mourning? Sunday Vanguard investigations revealed that excavation of the remains of the crashed aircraft which claimed 117 lives on October 22, at Lisa in Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State could not materialise last Monday, due to rains. Further checks just before press time, revealed the relevant agencies, which include the Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AIP), accident investigators from the United States of America’s National Transport Safety Board (NSTB), Boeing officials and insurers of the airplane, Lloyds of London, had visited the scene of the crash to assess the situation.
The three man NSTB team, it was learnt, came on the invitation of the Federal Government. This was consequent upon a request made through the U.S Embassy in Nigeria by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) which had asked them for technical assistance. Aviation authorities blamed the rains for stalling the excavation. The excavation, according to sources at the National Emergency Management Authority, is expected to go beyond recovery of the body of the aircraft. The excavation process would be painstaking in order to study items found in the aircraft. In order to ease movement, the government had rehabilitated the rough road leading to Lisa but it took more than ten days of preparations for the excavation to start.
The reason for the late start of work at the site, as our checks revealed, is lack of heavy equipment required for such assignment. The Ministry of Aviation does not have the necessary equipment for the task. Consequent upon this, the service of Julius Berger Plc was employed. And it has since moved in its equipment for the work. However, for sympathisers still keen on seeing the site of the misfortune, it may be just another dream as security operatives - a combined team of mobile and regular policemen and naval ratings - had cordoned off the area, while clutching guns in one hand, brandishing horsewhips in another, and of course, issuing stern warning to curious on-lookers and villagers intermittently. That is the situation at Lisa, once a forest and sleepy community, now a beehive of human activities.
At Lisa, the villagers are complaining not only about harassment by the security men, but also about the stench oozing from the decomposed bodies of the victims. Indeed, there is fear of a possible outbreak of epidemic. As a matter of fact, two days after the disaster, the threat of epidemic became real with the fast decomposing bodies of the dead ones. An alarm was raised with regard to this. Government top officials visited the site with their noses carefully masked. But the poor villagers were left to their own fate. Or should we call it misfortune.
Worried by the threat of the stench, the community has sent a save-our-soul message to the Federal Government in which the people articulated that the health hazard consequent of this development could wipe out the entire community. The Lisa community also appealed to the government to sink borehole in the area to supply them with harmless water, given that the chemicals had polluted their source of drinkable water. The recent arrest of the village head by the police added to the woes of the community. The village head, also called Baale, Chief Sadiku Odugbemi, was said to have been arrested along with two other villagers for allegedly looting property of the victims of the crash. However, as if to provide succour to the deceased families, Bellview Airline commenced compilation of insurance compensation for the victims. The method of payment, it was learnt, is not based on the passengers’ manifest.
For the simple reason of the twist in the manifest of the ill-fated Boeing 737, the management of the airline has put aside compensation based on a strict manifest consideration. A report said that the management would pay $100,000 per victim. The management also plans to sink some boreholes in Lisa. On the compensation, the management said: “All the families need to do is to show a photo ID card to ensure it corresponds with the names on the manifest.” But, for the grieving families, succour seems to re-open the wounds. It seems also to revisit the questions raised by the disaster about aviation safety. One is that $100,000 multiplied by 117, by simple arithmetic, you know the total amount. With that, a sound aircraft could be purchased. This is not an attempt in anyway to equate the amount for compensation with human life. But as they say a stitch in time saves nine.
Only last week, NCAA appeared to have woken up to its responsibility, with a shocking revelation that more than 29 aircraft of the 53 operating commercial flights in the country have exceeded the 22-year age limit stipulated by the aviation ministry. The regulatory authority listed Bellview Airline among others still operating the overage aircraft. Perhaps the disaster of the October 22 would have been averted if extra care was paid to the necessary checks. Still reacting to the situation, the NCAA banned the tradition of transfer of airline tickets. It also banned all forms of racketeering at the airports across the country.
The NCAA boss, Chief Fidelis Onyeriri observed that some touts buy tickets in advance and create unnecessary scarcity in order to make profit. “This will no longer be allowed. A lot of anomalies were discovered after the latest incident (crash). Many people did not travel with tickets bearing their names,” Onyeriri stated. Even then, the question being asked is, how far can he go on these measures? For, this is not the first time such unwholesome practices were banned. Like fundamental questions asked immediately after the crash, the question as to whether the recent ban on touting and racketeering would go far begs for answer.
Indeed, last week tongues were set wagging as many touched by the crash asked questions that unfortunately up till now have not been answered. These questions have been asked over and again. But for emphasis we can not but revisit these issues. Is it a norm for the radar not to function on weekends? Who certified flight 210? Is the aviation ministry now fit to prevent and in the event of disaster rescue victims? What is the state of preparedness of search and rescue operation? Is the Accident Prevention Bureau capable of anticipating accident in the air? Perhaps, more fundamental, what caused the Bellview Boeing 737 crash? Was it preventable?
When will the excavation work end? How safe is the air for the next flight? Has the country learnt any lesson from the latest air tragedy?
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