Nigerian crash toll rises after ground deaths confirmed
LAGOS - Agence France-Presse
Rescue workers search for bodies of victims of a plane crash at Iju-Ishaga neighbourhood, Lagos June 4, 2012. REUTERS photo
A Nigerian passenger jet that crashed in the country's largest city of Lagos killed at least six people on the ground, raising the confirmed death toll to 159, an official said Tuesday.
Rescue workers were using a crane to tear down the ruins of a two-story residential building, concerned it could collapse, but stopped when another corpse was spotted amid the wreckage. All 153 people on board the Dana Air MD83 were killed when it crashed on Sunday afternoon, and fears that death toll may rise are now centered on the residence with rescuers uncertain of how many people were in the building at the time of impact. "We have six victims from the building. Made up of four residents and two visitors," said Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, who heads the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency. Chineyere Peace Eweh, 37, said she was at church when she received a call that her home was on fire. "When I came I saw my flat burning. This is the only thing I have left," the mother of three explained, pointing to her clothes. "And my bible." She said a member of her church congregation has arranged a place for her to stay temporarily. Officials from the Lagos state government have begun registering those whose homes were destroyed and have offered to pay for permanent resettlement. Earlier on Tuesday, other building residents were allowed onto the site to salvage property, including one who spoke of a narrow escape for himself and two others.
"Two of us were in the living room about to watch the Nigeria-Namibia match when we heard a loud bang and parts of the walls started falling," said Colins Onyegesi, 24-year-old geology graduate, as he hauled away a refrigerator with his brother.
"I thought it was a bomb attack by (Islamist group) Boko Haram. We rushed to our room to rescue our sister, who was sleeping." Oke-Osanyintolu said 148 bodies have been recovered so far and relatives have been urged to identify those killed. Bodies that go unclaimed will be given a mass burial, he added. The victims include a number of foreigners, including six Chinese, an Indian, a French citizen and an unclear number of Americans. The pilot was an American and the co-pilot was Indian, the country's civil aviation chief has said.
The spokesman for Nigerian state oil firm NNPC was also reportedly among the dead.
The plane, traveling from the capital Abuja to Lagos, had reported both of its engines having failed before it went down, according to the civil aviation chief.
"They declared mayday," Harold Demuren told AFP. "The reason was that the two engines failed." The plane destroyed a duplex house, a church and warehouse used to store textbooks, which were scattered around the crash site among the heaps of rubble being scooped up and carried away by large-haul trucks. After the initial impact, the plane ploughed into the residential building, where rescuers said they will continue looking for more bodies. "For now, nobody can estimate the number of corpses still lying there," Sam Udo Onyemachi of Nigeria's Security and Civil Defence Corps told AFP, standing on the fringes of the crash site on Monday.
President Goodluck Jonathan visited the crash scene on Monday and pledged to improve the country's patchy air safety record as questions swirled over what caused the accident of the 22-year-old plane.
But investigators said they are not concerned with the age of the plane, with the probe focusing more how well it was maintained. "When it comes to airplanes, age doesn't really count," Clem Onyeyiri of Accident Investigations Bureau told AFP on Tuesday.
Local media reported that the crash was Nigeria's worst since 1992, when a military C-130 went down after takeoff in Lagos, killing around 200 people on board.
There have been a number of other crashes with more than 100 victims over the past decade in Nigeria but the most recent was in 2005.
The flight disappeared from radar screens on Sunday one minute after declaring the emergency at 3:43 pm local time (1443 GMT), 11 nautical miles from the airport, a statement from the aviation ministry said.
Dana, which began operating in 2008, issued a statement specifying that the plane was carrying 146 passengers and seven crew.
It said the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority was leading the investigation and would be assisted by the US National Transportation Safety Board.
Both of the plane's cockpit recorders have been recovered, officials said.