Sixteen months after the June 3, Dana crash, another aircraft owned by Associated Airlines crashes in Lagos, shortly after take-off
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Oct. 14, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
Kunle Rotimi-Akodu, a friend to Deji Falae, one of the victims of the ill-fated Associated Airlines aircraft that crashed in Lagos on Thursday, October 3, had planned to travel to Akure, capital of Ondo State with his friend but fortunately, he missed the flight. The chartered aircraft carrying the remains of Olusegun Agagu, former governor of Ondo State, 20 passengers, including crew members, crashed at the local wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, in less than a minute after take-off.
Rotimi-Akodu said he was meant to be with his friend but he got to his friend’s house late. “My last encounter with him was on the phone. We spoke about how we could meet and he told me that he had some official duties, especially the funeral programme of the former governor of their state. So, we planned to meet in Lagos. We still spoke on Tuesday and he said he would be in Lagos. We were supposed to see but unfortunately I couldn’t make it. I called him and he said I should join him today so that we would return to Akure together on the same plane that crashed. He said I should make haste to meet up, but I had an emergency issue to resolve.
“By the time I actually got to his house, the housemaid told me he had left and the wife had left home too. The housemaid said, oga just left, he said you should find your way to Akure. I felt disappointed for him to have done that, but because of the kind of person he was, I began to plan my trip to Akure to meet him and incidentally, I learnt that a plane crashed as I wanted to leave home and that Deji was also involved in the accident. I was dumb-founded when I heard. I looked up in my room and saw the catalogue of pictures we took together and tears began to drop from my eyes. I looked at the text messages we shared and began to picture myself being with him in the plane because that was the initial arrangement, if not that I was a bit late to join him,” he said. Rotimi-Akodu would have been one of the crash victims.
Mathew Babatunde, an airport taxi driver, who witnessed the crash, said, “I was just passing the toll gate with passengers in my car when I saw the aircraft coming down. I even thought the plane will crash on my car the way it was bent. My passengers immediately shouted at me that I should swerve the car. Immediately, I swerved my car then I saw that the plane was struggling to go up. It eventually hit a Mango tree behind Saraha Tank Farm. Immediately the plane hit the tree, it divided into two and caught fire. I saw one man walk out with his leg, he was supported by two other people. It took about 20 minutes before an ambulance came and another forty minutes before the fire service people arrived the scene. Those around, including personnel from the Air Force, Arik and other Nigerians were helping to rescue the victims. I am not working again today, I want to go and park my car now. I am no longer interested to work,” he said.
Chidinma Nwoke, one of the sympathisers, said she was among the first people who arrived at the scene of the crash. “We tried to help the victims but the soldiers and airport officials refused. They said it is dangerous and that we were not wearing safety boots. It is horrible. I saw a woman who tried to jump out but she got hooked on the fence and she died there. The fire outbreak consumed most of them, including one man who was almost out. That man would have been alive if the fire services were on ground early enough. He was almost out of the aircraft but fire caught his trousers and that was how he got burnt. I also saw a man who wore a white trouser walk with his legs from the crash. He had only a slight injury on the head and was taken to the clinic near the toll gate,” she said.
Another sympathiser, who did not want his name to be mentioned, said the plane lost an engine immediately after take-off. He said the pilot tried to return to the airport when the aircraft crashed about 800 metres away from the airport. The plane crash happened 16 months after an MD 83 aircraft belonging to Dana Airline, crashed in the Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos, claiming 159 lives on June 3, 2012. But unlike the Dana plane crash, all relevant security and emergency agencies comprising the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, the Police, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, Red Cross, and the Lagos State Fire Service, were present at the crash site. Others included the Nigerian Air Force personnel and officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA.
Rasaq Fadipe, general manager, LASEMA, who was at the scene of the crash, said the agency received a distress call around 9.30am and immediately mobilised men and equipment to the site. “We took three fire fighting trucks, each with 10,000 litres of water, which my men used to extinguish the fire that affected the cockpit compartment of the aircraft,’’ he said.
There was, however, initial confusion over the actual number of persons aboard the flight. While the ministry of aviation put the number of persons at 27, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN and the Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB said they were 20. FAAN and the AIB said the 20 comprised 13 passengers and seven crew members, which included two pilots, two cabin crew members and three engineers.
Joe Obi, special assistant to the minister of aviation, said in a statement that an Embraer aircraft operated by Associated Airlines with Reg. No. SCD 361 en-route Akure from MMA, Lagos, crashed shortly after take-off at about 9.30am local time. According to him, “the plane had 20 passengers and seven crew members on board. The majority of the people on the ill-fated aircraft have been accounted for. However, rescue operations continue to look for one soul, who was on board the plane and who is still missing.”
He noted that emergency rescue operations by a combined team of Fire Service and security personnel commenced immediately. He confirmed that there were six survivors in the aircraft. Four are in a stable condition while two are critical. All are receiving full medical attention in the hospital.
He also noted that the AIB would not release the names of the casualties or the hospitals where they were until they contacted the families involved. Usman, who also said that rescue operations at the scene of the accident ended at about 11.50am, also declined to give the age of the Brazilian made Embraer aircraft.
Yakubu Dati, general manager, corporate communications, FAAN, who spoke at the scene of the crash, said, “We confirmed today (Thursday) the crash of an Embraer 120 belonging to Associated Airlines near JUHA premises of the MMIA. The propeller aircraft marked 5N-BJY crashed around 0932hrs on its way to Akure with 20 passengers on board. The rescue operation commenced immediately with all the relevant agencies moving en masse to the crash site. The black boxes of the aircraft has been recovered. Some of the survivors are already receiving treatment at the hospital while rescue operation is still in progress. An emergency response centre has been set up at the NCAA medical conference room,” Dati said.
Taiwo Raji, chief operating officer, AAL, said, “We can account for seven survivors while the remaining 13 people are dead. There were 20 souls on board. It was a very unfortunate incident. We have 10 aircraft in our fleet and six serviceable aircraft and the last A-check maintenance was done on June 14, 2013. And the plane was insured by Sema Insurance Company and Nigerian Re-insurance,” he said.
The company had earlier on Thursday said it was currently co-operating fully with the aviation regulatory authorities with a view to establishing the remote and other causes of “this most regrettable accident.” It also assured that it would continue to provide information on the accident firstly to the affected families out of respect for them.
But Shehu Usman, commissioner in the AIB, said at a news conference in Abuja, that 20 persons and not 27 were on board the ill-fated flight. “There were 20 people on board. Thirteen of them were passengers and seven were crew members, which included two pilots, two cabin crew members and engineers. The plane had a 30-seat capacity. From four survivors which we had initially, we now have six survivors,” he said.
On her part, Stella Oduah, minister of aviation, who sympathised with the families of the deceased, said a full investigation into the cause of the accident had commenced. She urged the public to be patient, saying that the nation’s airspace remained safe and secure. “The Federal Ministry of Aviation deeply commiserates with the families of the victims. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time. The black box of the aircraft has been located and is in the custody of the Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau who, with the cooperation of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and other relevant agencies, has commenced full investigation into the cause of the accident. While it is too early to determine the cause of the accident, we urge the public to be patient while the investigation progresses. I assure the public that the investigation will be thorough and that our airspace remains safe and secure,” she said.
Meanwhile, the family of the late Agagu and the Ondo State government had ordered that his remains should be conveyed to his home town by road in order to continue with the burial arrangement as scheduled. Ebenezer Alabi, Ondo State chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said the party had contacted the family and the burial arrangement would go on as scheduled. He said the family had decided that the burial would go ahead as scheduled and that the son and the son-in-law had survived the crash.