Nigeria plane crash: 2 Indians die; Prez pledges action
Addis Ababa, June 5 , 2012 (WIC) - Emergency crews wearing masks to protect them from the acrid smoke and the stench of the dead searched for bodies in a shattered neighborhood near the airport on Monday after the crash of a jetliner killed all 153 people on board and an unknown number on the ground.
Two Indians were among the 193 victims of Sunday’s plane crash in Nigeria. One was the co-pilot, Mahendra Singh Rathore, and the other was Kerala engineer Rijo Eldos.
The pilot of the ill-fated plane had sent out emergency signals while nearing the runway indicating a technical problem but the Boeing MD-83 plane, belonging to Dana Air, an Indian-owned company, went down near the airport shortly afterwards. The flight reported both of its engines having failed before it went down, the country’s civil aviation chief Harold Demureen said on Monday.
Apartment buildings, small businesses and roadside shops were smashed to bricks and rubble on Sunday when the Dana Air MD-83 plowed into the area about five miles (nine kilometers) short of Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
Pilots on the flight from Nigeria’s capital Abuja to its largest city of Lagos radioed the tower that they had engine trouble shortly before the crash, but the exact cause remained unclear. The weather was clear at the time.
Dana Air said an investigation was under way with US officials assisting the Nigerian government. AP
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan wept as he visited the Iju-Ishaga neighborhood, where emergency workers wore masks.
Jonathan pledged to make air travel safer, but the crash called into question the government’s ability to protect its citizens and enforce regulations in a nation with a history of aviation disasters.
By nightfall, searchers with police dogs recovered 137 bodies, including those of a mother cradling an infant, according to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency. Rescuers acknowledged they still didn’t know how many people died in the wrecked apartments and smaller tin-roofed buildings along the narrow streets of Iju-Ishaga.
“The fear is that since it happened in a residential area, there may have been many people killed,” said Yushau Shuaib, a federal emergency management spokesman.
The Chinese embassy said six of its nationals were on the plane. Besides, two Major Generals, many members of staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and several top personalities were also on board.
Cranes cleared the stillflaming debris to allow rescue workers better access to the densely populated crash area.
Lagos state, home to 17.5 million people, has grown rapidly in recent years and soon will be home to the most populous city in all of Africa. Massive migration and urban sprawl have brought residential neighborhoods to the boundaries of the airport.
Some US citizens were aboard the flight, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, but he could not provide a firm number. Others killed in the crash included at least four Chinese citizens, two Lebanese nationals and one French citizen, officials said.
Boeing said in a statement on its website that the company is ready to provide technical assistance to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority through the US National Transportation Safety Board. Dana Air said an investigation was under way with US officials assisting the Nigerian government.
On 19 April, 2010, the same plane made an emergency landing in Lagos because of a loss of engine power after a bird strike following takeoff, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
The plane was exported to Nigeria in early 2009. It was first delivered in 1990 with the US registration number N944AS to Alaska Airlines and had two minor incidents while in the Seattle-based airline’s service, according to databases of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Aviation Safety Network. On 2 November, 2002, the plane made an emergency diversion because of smoke and an electrical smell in the cabin. On 20 August, 2006, the plane was evacuated after landing at Long Beach, California, because of smoke in the cabin.
Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy said the carrier did not sell the plane directly to Dana, but rather sold it to North Shore Aircraft LLC and leased it back for a year. It returned the plane to North Shore Aircraft in August 2008, he said.
After the two smoke incidents, caused by chafing of wiring bundles in the plane, the aircraft was cleared to fly, McElroy said.
McDonnell Douglas, bought by Boeing in 1997, built the plane. It was a long-range variant of McDonnell Douglas’ popular MD-80 series, one of the most widely used plane types in the 1980s and ’90s. Boeing stopped manufacturing them in 1999, although they still fly in the US
Nigeria, home to more than 160 million people, hasn’t had a major airline crash in recent years. 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.
After Jonathan viewed the crash site surrounded by soldiers and secret police officers, he vowed that accidents like Sunday’s “would not repeat themselves again in this country.”
“The government is totally committed to improving the quality of aviation in the country,” he said. “This incident is a major setback for us.”
Yet Jonathan’s promises echoed those of former President Olusegun Obasanjo after another airplane crash in 2005, when he promised the government would make sure such a “calamity does not repeat itself.” Instead, Nigeria has been plagued by a series of crashes in the last two decades, including a September 1992 military transport plane crash that killed 163 people.
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