[OPINION] Air Crashes: An Annual Episode In Nigeria

Air crash

There is hardly a year gone without experiencing the incident of Air crashes as it has almost become an annual event in Nigeria. No serious steps were seen to have been taken by government officials and stakeholders playing the game according to the rule, to forestall the loss of friends and relatives in air crash disasters.

The frequent cases of this ugly development nation wide remind me of a story narrated by Taiwo Olanrewaju in one of his articles titled: Towards Minimizing Air crash in Nigeria. He said, two friends were going on a trip by air to Abuja from Lagos, Nigeria. As the plane was about to take-off, the passengers were unusually quiet but not Kehinde, one of the two friends. He chatted continuously with his friend, Richard, who was also quiet.

As soon as the aircraft was airborne and balanced, Richard asked Kehinde whether he did not know that take-off and landing periods are critical moments during flights and rather than converse, the passengers pray to God for safe take-off and landing.

Kehinde, in his humorous manner, however, replied that he prayed before leaving home but that if he was called upon to lead a prayer session in the plane, he would first ask God for forgiveness on behalf of all passengers. Reason? Richard wondered. Simply because God created humans to live on the land, birds to fly in the air and fishes to live in the sea. “What are we doing here in the air if I may ask? I personally don’t understand.  Can’t you see that we have overstepped our bounds?,” Kehinde added.

The meaning of this is that, travelling by air which ordinarily needs to be a pride of joy and welcome development in Nigeria is gradually becoming out of bound. Simply because, no one is enthusiastic to travel by air except on some few unavoidable circumstances.Whereas, it is a modern development embarked upon by countries of the world and Nigeria cannot shy away from the act. But it is so sad that Nigeria is synonymous with air crashes. Here is a brief look into the cases of air crashes in Nigeria and their dire consequences:

According to Nigerian Tribune’s investigation, the very first air crash occurred at about 8:15 pm on Sunday, April 12, 1942 at Igbo Ilapa, now known as Igbo Aeroplane in Ikogosi in Ekiti-West Local Government Area of Ekiti State. The cargo plane, which crash landed on the community, known for its warm and cold spring water, was said to be carrying war ammunition during the Second World War.

The number of people on board could not be ascertained.  The second did not occur until 20 years later, precisely on Thursday, November 20, 1969 when a Nigeria Airways BAC VC10 crashed on landing, killing 87 people on board.

Similarly, next was on Monday, January 22, 1973 when Royal Jordanian Airlines flight 707 carrying 171 Nigerian Muslims returning from Mecca and five crewmen crashed in Kano, killing all on board while on Wednesday, March 1, 1978, a Nigeria Airways F28-1000 crashed in Kano, killing 16 people and five years after, on November 28, 1983: Nigeria Airways F28-1000 crashed near Enugu, killing 53 on board while in December 1988, a  SkypowerBrandeironte aircraft overshot Ilorin Airport’s runway, killing all the passengers.

However, the history of multiple crashes in a single year began in 1991, with the first plane crash being on Sunday, February 24, 1991 when a British Helicopter crashed in Eket, AkwaIbom State, killing all nine people on board and the second on Tuesday, May 21, 1991, a Cessna Citation 550 of Ashaka Cement, Hombe, crashed, killing all on board while the third was  on Wednesday, June 26 of the same year,  when an Okada Air Bac-11 crashed in Sokoto, killing three persons.

On Saturday, September 26, 1992, a Nigerian Air Force AC- 130 plane crashed minutes after take-off from Lagos, killing all 200 on board while on Saturday, June 24 and Monday, November 13 respectively in 1995, a Harka Air Services Tupolev 34 crashed on landing in Lagos, killing 16 and another Nigeria Airways Boeing 737-2F9 crashed on landing in Kaduna, killing 9.

The trend continued and  on Wednesday, January 17, 1996 when Ibrahim Abacha, son of then military Head of State SaniAbacha, was killed in a plane crash. The group “United Front for Nigeria’s Liberation” (UFNL) claimed responsibility for the crash. Ibrahim was in the company of some of his friends, young promising Nigerians, when the crash occurred. Also in November of the same year, a Nigerian ADC (Aviation Development Corporation) Airline Boeing 727-231 flying from Port Harcourt to Lagos with 142 passengers and nine crew members crashed on landing, plunging into the lagoon with all 151 souls on board killed.

Likewise on Friday, January 31, 1997, five people lost their lives when a Sky Power Express Airways Embraer 110PIA crashed on landing in Yola while 10 people miraculously escaped death on September 12 of same year when NAF Dornier 228-212 in Nguru, BornoState ran into a ditch during take-off.

17 people died in the crash of January 2000 while another six sustained injury in the crash of October of the same year but in 2002, while 76 of the 105 people on board lost their lives, similar fate befell 72 people on ground who were not connected with the flight, but were busy going about their daily duties when an EAS Airlines’ BAC 1-11-500 crashed and burst into flames in a densely populated suburb of Kano.

On November 30, 2003, a Cargo aircraft of Hydro Cargo, Brussels, Belgium, crash-landed; on March 6, 2004, an Aenail spray aircraft with registration number 5NBEF belonging to Berfieex Nigeria Ltd, crashed at the Bauchi Airport; on July 26, 2004, Pan African Airlines’ helicopter crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in Eacraros, DeltaState, killing four persons on board; on December 29, 2004, a Boeing 727 of ChanchangiAirlines belly-landed at the MMA and a Kenya Airlines aircraft crashed- landed at the MMA due to gear fault.

The year 2005 recorded 10 crashes on January 28, February 25, March 27, June 11 and 12, June 24, July 6 and 23, October 22 and December 10. Although some of the aircrafts did not carry passengers, over 500 passengers lost their lives to the different crashes, including 60 students of JesuitLoyolaCollege, Abuja while cows that were grazing close to the Port-Harcourt airport were not spared in one of the crashes.

Three crashes took place in 2006, one crash respectively in 2007, 2008 and 2011 before the Dana air crash of Sunday, June 3, 2012 in which 153 people on board and over 40 people on ground lost their lives in Lagos.

The latest air crash took place few days ago on August 13, 2015, a Bristow helicopter  with registration number 5N-BDG 760540 which crashed into the Lagos Lagoon at the Oworonshoki end of Third Mainland Bridge. Four (4) people were reported dead by National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) officials out of twelve people on board.

The causes of the different crashes have been traced to engine failure; lack of qualified meteorologists and pilots; bad weather;  human error, which according to the Aviation Investigation Bureau (AIB) include non-lightening of runways and airfields, poorly constructed drainage culverts, inaccurate information by the control tower, lack of proper certification of radio operators and poor supervision of aircraft imported into the country; bird strikes; apron congestion; poor maintenance of aircraft and airport equipment; negligence and dereliction of duty of aviation staff.

But the truth of the matter is that, no Nigeria Airline is using latest model aircraft rather than antiquated and abandoned ones being imported into Nigeria as a dumping ground for all sorts and nothing else. Infact, most of these airlines, which both Nigerians and foreigners are operating in Nigeria’s local and international aircrafts are old compared to aircrafts belonging to foreign airlines. In developed countries, plane mishaps have some limitation unlike here in Nigeria where it is becoming the order of the day.

With the quantum of death being recorded in the aviation industry, it is high time the federal government called the operators of these airlines to ensure that sanity returns to the industry. It is also important for the concerned authorities in the aviation sector to rein in all operators on issues of standards, compliance and safety.

Finally, unless and until these are done, Nigeria will continue to experience air crash.

By Ilyas A. Adegoke

500l law Student, Unilorin