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PDP chairman’s wife, 62 others escape death ... in a near Bellview plane crash

Posted by Yusuf Alli, Akin Olukunle and Soni Daniel on 2005/12/20 | Views: 639 |

PDP chairman’s wife, 62 others escape death ... in a near Bellview plane crash

The wife of the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Mariam Ali, and 62 others escaped death by a whisker in Accra, Ghana, on Monday when another Bellview plane crash was averted.

The wife of the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Mariam Ali, and 62 others escaped death by a whisker in Accra, Ghana, on Monday when another Bellview plane crash was averted.

The incident, which occurred at about 11.55am, led to the closure of Kotoka International Airport for four hours.

Findings by our correspondents showed that the Bellview aircraft was bound for Sierra-Leone but it had a stop-over in Ghana to pick more passengers.

It was, however, gathered that the aircraft developed a fault mid-air, forcing the pilot to put the control tower in Accra on the alert.

A source said the plane lost its landing gears (tyres).

Investigations indicated that the danger alert enabled the Ghanaian civil aviation authorities to prepare for the aircraft’s emergency crash-landing.

It was learnt that there was pandemonium on board.

The source also said that the aircraft pilot, simply identified as Capt. Ugbogu, manoeuvred the aircraft to the tarmac.

The aircraft was later towed to the apron, where its affected tyres were replaced, the source added.

Narrating the ordeal of the passengers on board to our correspondents, Mrs. Ali, the only first-class passenger, said, “It was a psychological trauma. The problem started mid-air. The steward was quite worried when we were airborne. I was closer to the crew and I felt their anxiety.

“They said the nose-wheel of the plane failed and they managed to crash-land. We narrowly missed the edge of the runway. And we eventually overshot the runway. It was in the process that the tyres burst.

“When we crashed, we heard a bang; there was panic everywhere but the fire service unit and the ambulance workers came to our aid.

“The crew of the Bellview plane must have alerted the aviation authorities in Ghana on the technical fault.”

She condemned the management of the airline for its alleged insensitivity to the plight of the passengers.

“The lucky passengers were not psychologically rehabilitated. In spite of the shock and panic, nothing was done to mitigate our trauma.

“No water for the exhausted passengers up till 5.50pm when they moved them to another Bellview plane to Lungi Airport, Sierra Leone.

“They knew the difficulty in landing at night in Sierra Leone but they still hauled the traumatised passengers into another aircraft for a two-and-a-half hour trip to Sierra Leone. But six of us refused to continue the journey,” she said.

Mrs. Ali said other prominent Nigerians on the flight were the Director of Administration in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, M. Musa Shafi, and the Deputy Director of Finance and Administration, Mallam Gana.

She added, “We were going to represent Mr. President to present some technical aids to the judiciary of Sierra Leone.”

But in Lagos, there was confusion when passengers heard the news of the crash-landing of the Bellview Airlines Boeing 737-200.

The Public Relations Manager of the airline, Mr. Habib Mohammed, confirmed the incident to journalists at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.

He said, "The aircraft was on the runway. It actually landed when the pilot realised we had flat tyres.

“The pilot used his discretion to park the aircraft on the runway. The aircraft is ready and will be in the country (Nigeria) later today."

There were indications that the Federal Government had grounded the airline’s operations following the near mishap.

Neither the airline’s officials nor their counterparts in the Ministry of Aviation could be reached as at press time to confirm the development.

Bellview Airlines Flight 210 crashed at Lisa, Ogun State, on October 22, 2005, killing all the 117 people on board.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Aviation, Dr. Babalola Borishade, has said he will resign his appointment as canvassed by the families

of the victims of the Sosoliso plane crash which occurred in Port Harcourt on December 10, and the National Assembly if that will end air disasters.

Speaking to journalists after facing a walkout by the bereaved persons in Port Harcourt, he said, “If my resignation is going to stop air disasters in Nigeria, I am willing to resign anytime.

“I feel the pain of the parents myself, and I would have behaved the way they have done today if I had lost people in the air crash.”

The minister was at the regional area office of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, near Shell Residential Area, to condole with parents of the students of Loyola Jesuit College who perished in the crash.

But the parents, who had earlier marched round major streets of Port Harcourt with placards to press home their grief, pointedly told the minister to resign. Thereafter, they walked out on him and refused all entreaties to return to the venue of the meeting.

In an address presented by the Port Harcourt branch President of the Loyola Jesuit College Parents’ Association, Mr. Joe Egwele, the parents accused the minister and his officials of ineptitude.

They demanded a well-publicised retraction and apology from the ministry and other government officials over the claim that rescue operations following the plane crash were prompt and adequate, and that fire-fighting equipment were functioning on the fateful day.

The parents said, “In our opinion, this is a gross dereliction of duty by the aviation ministry of which you are the chief executive. In view of the foregoing, we unreservedly demand the immediate resignation of the honorable minister.

“This, we believe, is in tandem with the demand of the generality of Nigerians. We also demand the dismissal of the aviation officials whose gross negligence contributed to the carnage and ultimate demise of our innocent children, leading to the eclipse of a generation of some of Nigeria’s brightest and best.”

Borishade, who had earlier wept profusely over the incident, pleaded with the parents to take heart.

He said the government had no excuse for the tragedy.

He added that since the Federal Government could not shut all airports in the country, necessary steps were being taken to put the aviation industry on a sound footing.

There was uncertainty in the aviation sector on Monday about the delay in naming a replacement for Mr. Fidelis Onyeyiri, who was removed as director-general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.

The Technical Adviser to the Minister of Aviation, Captain Roland Iyayi, was named to replace Mr. Oladunjoye Onasanya as Managing Director of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency.

The removal of Onyeyiri and Onasanya was announced in a statement by Borishade on Monday.

Sources at the aviation ministry said men invited from a private airline to take up the office of the NCAA director-general rejected the offer.

"The Managing Director of Afrijet, Mr. Harold Demuren, and a director of the airline, Berry Noelle, have been approached but they rejected the offer," one of the sources disclosed.

Another source said the Rector of the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, who is also the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Verification of Airworthiness of Commercial Aircraft in Nigeria, Mrs. Folashade Odutola, is being tipped for the job.

Some other directors of the regulatory agencies were also removed.

Those affected include the Director of Airworthiness, Mr. Sam Oduselu, and officers in the Directorate of Airworthiness, NAFIS and flight operations.

According to Borishade, these officials “demonstrated culpable negligence and unprofessional conduct in persistently colluding with those who have confessed that they did 'cut corners' to endanger the lives of Nigerians."

He added that the sanitisation of the industry would be a continuous exercise, and that no consideration would be given for the retention and engagement of any officer if such an action would compromise safety, security and efficiency in the industry.

The PUNCH, Tuesday, December 20, 2005

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