Levi Ajuonuma, Aikhomu’s son, minister’s husband among victims
WITH families like the Ojugbanas, the Fatokuns, the Lis and the Anyenes, among others confirmed dead, it was a disaster of immense proportions. (See manifest for details).
The victims included four officials of the National Universities Commission (NUC), son of the late former Vice President Augustus Aikhomu, Ehime, Celestine Onwuliri, former Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Technology, Owerri (FUTO), who was also the husband of the current Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Group Public Affairs Manager of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Levi Ajuonuma. A retired permanent secretary, Ibrahim Damcida, Gen. Tahir Umar and a lot of people who attended a wedding at the weekend in Abuja were also on the flight. They all died in a plane crash in Lagos yesterday.
There were 109 male adults, 26 female adults, four male children, and one male child. There were also six male infants, making the total passengers of 146 that perished in the Dana aircraft.
The number of victims, on ground, especially in the buildings hit by the aircraft is yet to be ascertained.
The plane flew at an unusually low level over trees and houses.
The vibration from the aircraft forced worried residents out of their homes. Others looked in the direction it took with bathed breathe.
It was clear to the watchers of the unfolding scenario that a disaster loomed and it indeed happened yesterday in Lagos.
Eyewitnesses said first, it was a bang, then an explosion and a thick smoke, which filled the air. It was a Boeing McDonnel Douglas 83 aircraft operated by Dana Airlines, which plowed into buildings and burst into flames, a few minutes from the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.
There were 146 passengers and seven crew members on board the aircraft from Abuja to Lagos.
The scene was Popoola Street, off Akande Street, Toyin Bus Stop, Agbado Road, Iju-Ishaga, Lagos. And the time was 3.00 p.m.
Of course, as the aircraft approached Lagos airspace and received instructions from Air Traffic Controllers, the passengers must have started thinking of whatever brought them to Lagos while those resident in the city would have been looking forward to a reunion with their loved ones.
Many residents of Lagos connected to Black Berry Mobile had between 3.00 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. got this message: ‘Plane crash at Iju Road Olaniyi Street, off Toyin Bus Stop, Iju Ishaga Agege. Plane crashed into a building, fire burning, all passengers dead, fire service needed, please broadcast.”
Soon after, the grim confirmation came from eyewitnesses.
The death toll could be higher as many people were feared killed when the aircraft crashed into the residential houses.
The crowd of sympathisers was unprecedented at the scene while relatives of some of the passengers were wailing even as they tried to console one another.
Officers of the Nigerian Army, Police, Air Force were on ground to control the crowd while a combine team of Lagos State Emergency Management Authority and the Lagos Fire and Safety Service put in spirited efforts to put out the fire on the wreckage and in some of the affected buildings.
A Nigerian Air Force helicopter 565 and a Bristol Air helicopter carrying emergency and rescue personnel and equipment made attempts to land close to the site of accident but could not on account of the teeming crowd.
When at last a Nigerian Navy helicopter landed, the crowd erupted in a deafening jubilation.
But it was obviously too late for the passengers and crew and other victims in the affected houses.
An eyewitness, Collins Chukwukanne, who lives within the area, said they noticed the Dana plane swerving in the air from Pipeline area towards a church, End Time Gospel Ministry International.
According to him, “we were all confused and tried to run when we noticed that the plane was coming down.
“But at a point it tried to climb up again but unfortunately one of its wings got entangled in a mango tree and broke off, while the plane caught fire.
“As the wing fell off the body, the remaining part of the plane crashed into a two-storey building beside the tree then into yet another building and then into a factory before the nose finally crashed into the church.
“An explosion followed immediately after and the whole place was set on fire. Some of the residents of the affected buildings ran out but others were not so lucky.”
Collins said immediately the incident happened, “we started calling all emergency lines but there was no positive response until around 4.00 p.m. when the first rescue team came.”
Meanwhile, another resident in the area told The Guardian that they tried to stop the fire but it was too severe.
“We were seeing roasted bodies falling off from the tree and the building. It was a horrible disaster and I pray never to witness it again.”
It was however unfortunate that the location of the disaster did not make the rescue operations any easier. The access routes were too bad for vehicles to pass. Even trucks with rescue equipment could not easily be moved into the area.
A resident, Bode David, who flayed the emergency team for coming late to the scene, said some of the affected buildings could have been saved.
Another eyewitness said that he was out with his friends at the Powerline when they sighted the plane approaching and noticed that it was unusual flight.
“It was unstable like your driving a car and swerving its steering. It was coming down and about aiming at the near-by Longe Hospital. But before it got there, it picked up again. But soon it started coming down again. It was one of the wings that touched a mango tree and the plane caught fire mid-air and crash-landed into the building. That was around 2.30 p.m.
“We were calling security number 112 among other numbers but they were just speaking grammar. They did not come until around 4.00 p.m. for an incident that happened before 2.30 p.m. If they had come on time, this building (pointing) wouldn’t have burnt completely. They came late.” he said.
Policemen first arrived. “We were actually disappointed because in a situation like this, we expected the Fire Service to make the first response. After the police, we heard sirens approaching and about 30 minutes later, the Fire Service water came,” David said.
Several of the houses were still on fire at about 6.30 p.m. , including the storey building into which the plane first crashed as parts of the wreck were stuck between the walls.
As tongues of flame and thick smoke swirled out of the smashed walls and broken windows, eyewitnesses spoke of bodies strewn inside the fuselage, some still strapped in their seats.
Part of the fuselage, a wing and items of passenger-luggage were strewn as far as a hundred metres apart, with a few bodies visible in the wreckage even as smoke and tongues of flame curled upwards into the fast-approaching night.
A resident, James Okon, a commercial motorcyclist, said he watched the plane approach and “then it acted as if it was going to land and the next thing was that it smashed through a carpenter’s shop and into that building there (pointing).
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Lagos State Emergency Management Authority (LASEMA), Dr. Femi Oke Osanyintolu, said he would not give an immediate account of the number of dead as there were still more bodies in the wreck and in the buildings.
“Immediately the crash occurred, we were informed and we activated our network. The major challenge that we have is that the building that was hit by the plane caught fire. It affected five buildings but there were more people affected.
“But don’t let us talk about numbers here. What is important is the major challenge that we are facing here. One is that it is a residential area; so one way or the other, some people are displaced from their homes. Because the crash also affected a two-storey building and the occupants are families and they are displaced.
“It affected a company and another residential building in the same neighbourhood. The storey building that has been affected, we have to control its collapse because it is another impending disaster. The firm also has inflammable containers in it. We had to quickly put off the fire and evacuate the people that are inside,” he said.
The emergency rescue team also had to cope with huge traffic of people, who trooped in and out of the site as the night wore on.
“Right now, I am moving in with heavy duty equipment to complement the activities of the fire service.
“The heavy duty machine will control the collapse of the burnt building. After that, we will start evacuating the dead,” Osayintolu said.
At the time of filing this report, the inferno was still raging as rescued workers ran out of water.
The aid workers led by officials of the Red Cross, the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police with the Lagos State Fire Service brought the charred bodies out of the building. They had difficulty in assessing the area.
The residents of the building were also feared killed in the crash. The Guardian saw 12 burnt bodies taken out of the structure.
An eyewitness alleged that the fire fighters came to the scene two hours after the crash.
A resident in tears, who did not disclose his identity, pointed to the ruined building, saying: “My brother is right there and the police are preventing us from entering the place to rescue him. They brutalised me and sent me away. I am sure my brother is not dead yet.”
A grief-stricken Jamiu Akanmu (an eyewitness) claimed that some trapped residents in the building would have survived if the rescue team had arrived at the scene on time. He said: “It happened at about 3.30 p.m. and I saw the plane rambling from Powerline crossing the junction before it finally landed on the two buildings and exploded immediately.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Harold Demuren, confirmed that there were no survivors.