Friday, 4 October 2013

Nigeria: Plane Crashes With Agagu's Casket, Kills 13 (update)

Nigeria's aviation industry witnessed another tragedy yesterday, as an Embraer aircraft operated by Associated Airlines with registration number SCD 361, conveying the corpse of former Governor of Ondo State, Chief Olusegun Agagu from Lagos to Akure for burial, crashed shortly after take-off at Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos killing 13 persons on board while seven others survived.

The crash which occurred at about 9.30 a.m. had 13 passengers, and seven crew members on board.

President Goodluck Jonathan, in his immediate reaction ordered a thorough investigation into the crash by all relevant agencies with a view to determining the cause and taking further actions, as may be necessary. Embraer, manufacturers of the aircraft has also said it had offered to help authorities investigate the crash of the 30-seater plane.

An engineer, Rasheed Olajide, who witnessed the air crash at the airport told Reuters that "the plane was making a lot of noise and appeared to make a maneuver to avoid a residential area before it came down. A diplomatic source told Reuters the engine was made by Pratt & Whitney Canada, a unit of United Technologies Corp, PW100. According to the website, which keeps a record of passenger aircraft worldwide, the crashed aircraft was more than 23 years old.

The crash happened within Sahara Group tank farm, one of the companies supplying aviation fuel to airlines. The tank farm is situated some 200 metres away from the perimeter fence of the international wing of the MurtalaMhuammedAirport. The aircraft broke into two with its cockpit compartment burnt, while the remaining part that included the luggage compartment, was slightly burnt.

Agagu's casket intact

However, the casket containing the remains of Agagu, kept in the luggage compartment, was intact as it was not burnt when it was finally removed from the wreckage. The casket was conveyed in a NAF Ambulance with registration no AF 054 -Eo1 to the nearby NAF hospital, a few hours after the accident.

All relevant security and emergency agencies comprising Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), members of the Police Force, Federal Road Safety Corps, Red Cross and Lagos State Fire Services, were present at the crash site. Others include the Nigerian Air Force personnel and officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority

Some officials of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) were seen retrieving personal effects of passengers from the aircraft into their waiting vehicle for identification. Some of the retrieved belongings were a small camera, laptop bags, one iPad, a travelling bag containing personal effects, a torchlight, a walkie-talkie, a wallet and the case of a reading glass.

Many people wanted to catch glimpses of the incident and used their camera phones to snap pictures of the site. However, security agents had to cordon off the area to be able to dismantle the luggage compartment and bring out the casket.

A Commissioner of the Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AIPB), Captain Usman Murktar, who spoke on the air crash confirmed that there were 20 people on board the ill fated plane and that all persons on the aircraft have been accounted for. He also confirmed that search and rescue operations were called off at exactly 11.50am yesterday. This was after the last missing person on board the aircraft was recovered.

Black Box found -- AIPB boss

Captain Murktar said: "We can confirm that there were six survivors on the aircraft. Four are in stable condition while two are critical. All are receiving full medical attention in the hospital. The Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AIPB) has commenced investigation into the probable cause(s) of the crash. The Cockpit Voice Recorder, popularly called the Black Box has been found and is in the custody of AIPB."

In the course of search and rescue, the casket bearing the remains of Late Olusegun Agagu was brought out unscathed while survivors were rushed to hospital. The AIPB commissioner however failed to disclose the names of those aboard the aircraft, saying the bureau has to first officially notify the families of the victims before making their names public.

General Manager, Corporate Communication of FAAN, Mr. Yakubu Datti while speaking on the crash said that the aircraft was heading to Akure with 20 passengers onboard and that immediately the crash occurred, emergency response team rushed to the site of the crash to rescue the victims.

He said: "The propeller aircraft which belongs to Associated Airlines with registration number 5N-BJY crashed around 9:32am with 20 passengers onboard. Rescue operations commenced immediately with all relevant agencies to help and some of the survivors, about six of them have already been rushed to the hospital and they are receiving medical attention. We call on the public to shun unconfirmed reports and avoid speculation, so we will continue to update you every thirty minutes."

Also speaking, Director of Lagos State Fire Service, Mr. Rasaq Idowu Fadipe said that the agency was able to recover 11 passengers who were dead, while four other passengers were rescued alive.

Mr. Fadipe said: "We rescued 11 suspected dead passengers and four were rescued alive. Immediately we heard about the crash, we mobilised a lot of equipment and personnel to the site, so immediately we arrived here, we quickly engaged ourselves on search and rescue operation but before then, we put out the fire because there is no how you can work here without putting out the fire first, so within a few minutes three fire trucks responded, each carrying 10,000 litres of water to enable us quickly put off the fire and after that we engaged on search and rescue operations with other emergencies agencies.

A hospital source gave a total of seven survivors. Five of the injured are receiving treatment at the Surgical Emergency Section, LASUTH, one at the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, base, Ikeja, and another survivor who suffered some degree of burns was being attended to at the Burns and Trauma Unit of Gbagada General Hospital, after being referred from the Federal Medical Centre, Ebute Metta.

Mr Feyi Agagu, son of late former Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Agagu; Akintunde Taiwo, Akinsanya Femi, Mrs Toyin Samson and one unidentified adult male are at Surgical Emergency unit of LASUTH recuperating. Mr Agagu wore a cast on his neck while Mrs Samson is in stable condition.

DNA tests The Lagos State Government Thursday promised to conduct DNA tests to identify 13 bodies, which it said, were charred beyond recognition in the plane crash that occurred at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport.

Orelope-Adefilure, the state’s Deputy Governor, who visited the survivors at the emergency ward of the hospital, called on the relations of the victims in the ill-fated aircraft to come for DNA tests so the identity of the victims could be established.

“The survivors are here in the hospital receiving treatment. The 13 bodies recovered cannot be identified at the moment. But we are still waiting for the manifest of the passengers from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority. The survivors are receiving treatment here at the emergency surgical ward.

“So what we want to let the public know is that anyone who knows that he or she had anybody among the travelling party to Ondo State, aboard the flight, but not among the survivors, should see the pathologists at the LASUTH,” she said.

Speaking on the DNA tests, the Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University, Prof. John Obafunwa said the state government had “to carry out a forensic examination aimed at knowing the cause of the death and assisting in the identification of the victims.

“We are going to conduct the investigation this evening, having been given orders by the coroner to do so. Hopefully, within the next 48 to 72 hours, we should have been done with what we have to do. But we have been told that a number of bodies had been burnt beyond recognition and we will have to identify these individuals.”

He urged those whose relations were suspected victims on board the flight to see him.

“Basically, we need to have the children, the siblings, parents, as we are going to take some samples from them. It is not a thing that is difficult,” he explained.

Full manifest still awaited

Identities of all the victims remained unknown at press time as the full manifest was yet to be released, but unconfirmed reports indicated that among the dead were four staff of MIC Funeral Services, Lagos, as well as the Managing Director, Mr Tunji Okusanya and his son. The first son of Agagu who was on the flight was believed to be among the survivors.

Confirming the deaths, LagosState deputy Governor, Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, said all the bodies were burnt beyond recognition. Expressing shock over the incidence, the Deputy Governor consoled families of the victims, assuring that the government would take necessary steps to identify the bodies of the victims and give the best treatment to the survivors. "Accept our condolences. We will support the family members," she stated.

Meanwhile the state government may not release any of the bodies until it has conducted autopsies and forensic tests on the bodies before release to relatives. Already, family members of the deceased have been urged to come forward to submit DNA samples for the forensic tests and proper identification of victims bodies.

It was gathered that the samples for DNA was necessary since the bodies were burnt beyond recognition. Giving the hint, Prof. John Obafunwa, said: "We will take samples from their mouths. We will not push needles into anybody. We will compare this with DNA samples of the victims and this will be done as soon as possible. We will hasten up whatever we have to do because we appreciate the feelings of individuals.

Lagos State Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr Wale Ahmed observed the state has created a Help Desk to provide information to those families that were involved in the crash. The commissioner can be reached through 08022234870 for further information.

Striking LASUTH doctors work on crash victims

Meanwhile, following the crash, members of the Association of Resident Doctors, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH-ARD has modified its ongoing strike to attend to emergencies. Bodies of victims of the ill-fated aircraft have been evacuated to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH.

President, Association of Resident Doctors, LASUTH chapter, Dr Oluwajimi Shodipo who confirmed the situation said the on going strike was not about wasting lives but saving them.

"We have joined the strike but we have modified ours at LASUTH because of the plane crash in order to save lives. "We are attending to emergencies now. Consultants are also working at the various units. The strike is not about wasting lives but about saving lives.

The Associated Airline involved in the crash has stopped scheduled flights operations since last year after the Dana plane crash. The airline has been operating skeletal chartered services.

Friday 4 October 2013


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