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Black box found • Obasanjo summons airline chiefs

Posted by Our correspondents, Punch on 2005/12/11 | Views: 926 |

Black box found • Obasanjo summons airline chiefs

The manifest of the Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 aircraft which crashed on Saturday at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, Rivers State, was formally released on Sunday by the airlines’ management.

The manifest of the Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 aircraft which crashed on Saturday at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, Rivers State, was formally released on Sunday by the airlines’ management.

The release of the manifest coincided with the disclosure by the Ministry of Aviation that the planes’s black box and flight recorder had been recovered.

Before the manifest was made public, President Olusegun Obasanjo had summoned top officials of airlines and aviation authorities in the country to a meeting in Abuja on Tuesday.

According to the manifest , 102 passengers, including 71 students of the Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja and seven crew members were aboard the plane.

One hundred and six of them have so far been confirmed dead.

Fifty one corpses have been claimed.

Three of the passengers – Bunmi Amusan; Aligba Priscilla; Nkechi Nchukwuchi – were however lucky.

Prominent among those that perished in the crash are: the Co-Pastor of Fountain of Life Church, Pastor Bimbo Odukoya; the President, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Mr. Uche Okoro; and the Rivers State Commissioner for Education, Prof. Thompson Okugagu.

A former Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Chris Olakpe, lost his son while the Vice-Chancellor, Catholic University of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Ofegbu, lost his wife, Beatrice.

Medical aid agency, Doctors Without Borders, said that two of its workers, an American and a Frenchman, were also among the dead.

The Rivers State Government has already directed the five hospitals where charred bodies of the victims are deposited to release them to their relatives.

The hospitals are : Military Hospital, Aba Road; Shell Hospital, Market Road; University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital; Kpaima Mortuary, Elechi Road; and Braitwaite Memorial Hospital.

Announcing the recovery of the black box and flight recorder of the ill-fated aircraft, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Aviation, Mr. Tomi Oyelade, said that an accident investigation expert had arrived from the United States to probe the crash.

Oyelade, who represented the Minister of Aviation, Dr. Babalola Borishade, described the incident as pathetic and a national disaster.

He said, “On behalf of the Minister of Aviation, Dr. Babalola Borishade, we sympathise with the families of the victims and we pray God to give them the fortitude to bear the loss.

“We have come with our accident investigation expert. He is an American with 27 years experience in accident investigation.

“So far we have been able to recover the black box, the flight recorder and we have handed over the site to the investigation team.”

Oyelade said preliminary findings linked the accident to bad weather, adding that the investigator would give a true account of the circumstances of the accident.

He said, “All we are told is that the bad weather of yesterday (Saturday) might have caused the accident. We believe that the investigators will be able to confirm the actual cause.

Obasanjo, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mrs Remi Oyo, condoled with the families of the victims.

Oyo said in the statement that the President who shelved his planned trip to Portugal on Tuesday to discuss the lingering problems in the aviation sector with the stakeholders.

“It is expected that conclusions reached at the meeting will help to give more practical effect to President Obasanjo’s avowed determination to carry out urgent and much needed reforms in the aviation industry,” she said.

Oyo added that, “The President is particularly saddened by the untimely and abrupt termination of the lives of many young school children, who were on their way home for the Christmas holidays.”

Obasanjo had shortly after a Bellview plane crashed in October announced an immediate review and enforcement of aviation safety rules, vowing to "plug loopholes" which had allowed operators to bend the rules.

"I want to say that part of the problems with aviation in Nigeria is human. All the parastatals (state agencies) are corrupt from top to bottom. But we are going to fight it, whatever it takes," the president told aviation ministry officials.

Also, the management of Sosoliso Airlines described the crash as regrettable.

The Director, Ground Operations of the airline, Mr Obi Ogbolo , commiserated with the bereaved families.

He said, “We deeply regret the accident. We have a long history of safety. We don’t know what caused it. All we have to do at the moment is to commiserate with the bereaved families.”

Agence France Presse reported that senior aviation officials who visited the site of the disaster, said the Sosoliso plane appeared to have slewed off the debris strewn runway of the airport shortly after landing in heavy rain.

It then hit a drainage ditch and tore itself apart.

"You can see that it hit this culvert. This is the reason for this accident. The man (pilot) lost control because he hit this culvert," said the Minister of Transport, Chief Abiye Sekibo, as he inspected the burnt remains of the aircraft.

The Deputy Inspector -General of Police in charge of Operations, Mike Okiro, agreed, adding that the plane burst into flames as it tore itself up on the soft grass alongside the tarmac.

"If you were here yesterday (Saturday), you would have seen pieces of human flesh all over the place, burnt beyond recognition," he told reporters.

The PUNCH, Monday, December 12, 2005

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