LAGOS, Nigeria – A plane carrying 153 people plunged into a residential area of Nigeria’s largest city on Sunday, with all those aboard presumed dead, an inferno igniting at the scene and buildings badly damaged.
A number of people on the ground were also believed killed, an emergency official said, as around 10 burnt bodies had been removed from a building damaged in the crash.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared three days of national mourning for victims of the crash and pledged an investigation as rescuers rushed to pull out survivors from the densely populated, poor neighbourhood near the airport.
The cause of the crash of the Dana Air Boeing MD83 plane was unclear, but the emergency official as well as an aviation official said the cockpit recorder had been located and handed over to police.
Officials confirmed no survivors from the plane had been found Sunday evening following the afternoon crash, but search-and-rescue missions continued.
“We presume they are dead,” Tunji Oketunbi, spokesman for the country’s Accident Investigations Bureau, told AFP when asked about the fate of those on board the flight.
He added that definitive casualty figures will only emerge “after the search and rescue” is completed.
A spokesman for the airline said the flight included 147 passengers and six crew. Skies were cloudy at the time of the crash, but there had been no rain.
Thick smoke rose from the area and flames could be seen shooting from a two-storey building in the afternoon. The plane crashed in a plot containing what residents described as a church, a printing shop and the two-storey residential building.
Chaos broke out as thousands of residents swarmed the area and authorities sought to restore calm, with rocks and wood planks being thrown back and forth. Some residents tried to help by guiding firehoses through the crowds.
“I just saw the plane — it was going down and down and down,” said 23-year-old Gift Onibo.
Another resident, Tunji Dawodu, said, “I was just coming out of church around 3:30 pm when I heard a loud noise.
“I thought it was an explosion,” he said. “Then there was a huge flame from the building where the plane has crashed into.”
Some residents said it appeared that the plane had nose-dived into the neighborhood while others described it as swaying back and forth before crashing.
“It was waving, waving, waving,” Yusuf Babatunde, 26, said at the scene. “The pilot was struggling to control it. It crashed — it just started burning.”
Wreckage including a detached wing could be seen in the neighbourhood as the inferno burned. Residents reported seeing bodies being taken out of the area as rescue workers rushed in and a helicopter landed.
“It was a Dana (airline) flight out of (the capital) Abuja to Lagos with about 153 people on board,” Nigeria’s head of civil aviation Harold Demuren told AFP. “I don’t believe there are any survivors.”
The official with the National Emergency Management Agency said the plane had crashed onto two buildings: a church and the two-storey residential structure.
At least three people had been transported for treatment with relatively minor wounds, he said, in addition to the approximately 10 burnt bodies pulled from a badly damaged building.
The president’s office said in a statement that Jonathan had “directed that the Nigerian flag be flown at half-mast for the three days of national mourning.
“Meanwhile, the president has ordered the fullest possible investigation into the crash,” the statement added.
Aviation Minister Stella Adaeze Oduah said in a statement that the flight had declared an emergency with the control tower at 3:43 pm local time (1443 GMT) when it was 11 nautical miles from the airport. It disappeared from the radar screen a minute later.
Lagos, the largest city in Africa’s most populous nation, is home to an estimated 15 million people.
The accident came after another plane crash on Saturday night in the capital of the nearby West African nation of Ghana, which saw a cargo plane overshoot a runway and hit a passenger bus, killing at least 10 people.
The Allied Air cargo plane had departed from Lagos and was to land in Accra.
Nigeria has a spotty aviation record, though Dana had been considered to be a relatively safe and reasonably efficient domestic airline.
It began flights in 2008 and had been operating up to 27 daily flights. – Agence France-Presse