Posted by FROM KELVIN EBIRI (PORT HARCOURT) AND WOLE SHADARE (LAGOS) on
BARELY two months after the crash of Bellview aircraft flight 210 at Lisa, Ogun State killing all 117 passengers and crew onboard, a Sosoliso Airlines flight 1145 with 110 people yesterday crashed in Port Harcourt, Rivers State
BARELY two months after the crash of Bellview aircraft flight 210 at Lisa, Ogun State killing all 117 passengers and crew onboard, a Sosoliso Airlines flight 1145 with 110 people yesterday crashed in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Among the victims were about 70 children, said to be students of the Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja, who were returning home for the Christmas holiday. Their fate could not be ascertained as at press time last night.
Feared dead is a top member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and husband to a former cabinet member in the Rivers State government.
Between four and seven passengers reportedly survived the crash from the DC-9, with registration number 5N-BFD, which took off from Abuja.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Aviation, Mr. Tomi Oyelade while addressing reporters yesterday, corroborated Goong, saying that the AIPB had already visited the scene of the crash and would commence investigation into the remote and immediate causes of the accident.
Aviation sources in Lagos, however, indicated that the accident investigators could not leave yesterday for the scene of the accident due to the closure of the runway.
The investigators, it was gathered, would be leaving this morning aboard an Aero Contractor aircraft and commence investigation into the crash.
Oyelade directed relations, families of the victims and friends to contact the following agencies and telephone numbers for further enquiries. The are the Airport Manager, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos (08037111294); NAMA Airspace Manager (08052458110); NCAA Zonal Officer (08033096602); Abuja FAAN International Airport (08033341359); and NCAA Zonal Officer, Abuja (08055093328, 08041312029).
Family members, relations and well-wishers of those on board the ill-fated aircraft besieged the airport, wailing, as ambulances carried the remains of the victims to the morgue for preservation.
Parents in particular cried profusely and some could not even be consoled.
At the scene of the plane crash, burnt bodies littered the entire run way. Most of the passengers still had their seat belts on.
Officials of SAHCO, NAHCO and the Police were all over the place, assisting in the evacuation of the bodies. Forklifts were used to retrieve bodies from the plane. The remains of the Pilot, Captain Adebayo, were retrieved at exactly 4.46pm.
A luxury bus and five ambulances from Shell, NNPC and the Rivers State Ministry of Health were involved in the evacuation of the bodies to the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital (BMH), Port Harcourt.
An intending passenger told The Guardian that the weather was cloudy at the time of the incident and there was persistent thunderstorm at the airport.
By 7pm yesterday, no airport official would disclose the names of those on board. It was also difficult to ascertain the names of the four persons, who survived the crash.
Anxious parents and relations of the persons on board the plane cursed officials of FAAN and the airline for refusing them access to the scene of the crash or even explain the fate of their loved ones.
As an ambulance stopped at one of the entrance to the airport, families besieged it to get a glimpse of the corpses inside.
Shortly after the accident, planes were barred from landing and taking off from the Port Harcourt airport.
An official of FAAN said all aircraft due to land at the airport had been diverted to Owerri.
The spokesman for the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Bem Ben Goong, who briefed journalists on the accident yesterday, said it occurred around 2pm.
He stated that the crash occurred at 1,200 metres to touch down on the Port-Harcourt runway 21, adding that rescue operations were prompt. He, however, disclosed that as at the time of the briefing, 60 bodies were recovered while seven people were rescued alive. He said efforts were on to recover more bodies.
"At the time the aircraft went down, an helicopter followed it behind," he said. "The helicopter perched on the grass immediately the plane crashed. The helicopter was immediately joined by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and other organisations for rescue operation."
It was gathered that the aircraft left Abuja by 1.45pm and the accident, which occurred at 2.30pm, was caused by a thunderstorm that struck when the plane was about to land at the airport.
Though the weather was said to be inclement and it was raining lightly, sources at the airport said the pilot had communicated with the airport control tower and had been given permission to land.
However, lightning struck abruptly, thus igniting fire. The impact of the thunderbolt caused the plane to disintegrate into two while most of the passengers killed were burnt.
Some passengers at the airport said they heard a loud explosion as the plane landed. Among those killed in the air mishap was the pilot and co-pilot of the plane, Adebayo and Niyi.
The Minister of Aviation, Prof. Babalola Borishade, who is meeting with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Canada, will arrive today to have a first hand assessment of the crash.
A report from the Control Tower of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos made available to The Guardian yesterday, revealed that the pilot of the aircraft, one Capt. Adebayo landed six nautical miles away from the runway.
In aviation, six nautical miles, within the threshold of the runway, is the final descent on the runway.
A visit to the office of the airline at the domestic wing of the Lagos airport saw a handful of people, who had thronged the office to seek more information about the crash.
A woman, who apparently had a relation in the aircraft, was seen sobbing, as she made for her car and drove away.
The Commercial Manager of Sosoliso Airlines, Mr. Chimaobi Oji, apparently devastated by the crash, told The Guardian on telephone that the plane ran into a bad weather, occasioned by heavy thunderstorm.
In the interim, the management of Aero Contractors has expressed deep sympathy with the management of Sosoliso Airlines, families and friends of those who lost their lives in the aircrash.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with them now," said the Managing Director of Aero, Mr. Koen Neven.
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