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It was not yet clear what caused the Dana Air MD83′s engines to fail ahead of Sunday’s devastating crash in a densely populated area of Lagos, with more people feared dead on the ground in addition to the passengers.
“They declared Mayday,” Nigerian civil aviation chief Harold Demuren told AFP. “The reason was that the two engines failed.”
The clues emerged as rescuers recovered burnt human remains after the plane slammed into the neighbourhood on the northern outskirts of one of Africa‘s largest cities, making it one of the country’s worst air disasters.
President Goodluck Jonathan visited the devastation on Monday and pledged to improve the country’s spotty air safety record as questions were raised over what caused the accident.
Families meanwhile gathered outside a morgue at a Lagos hospital, hoping to identify relatives.
An ambulance dropped off 13 body bags at one point Monday afternoon, with a mortuary attendant saying corpses had been arriving since Sunday night.
A spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency, Yushau Shuaib, said on Monday evening that 137 bodies had so far been removed from the site, most of them thought to be plane passengers, though more precise details were not yet available.
The body of a woman clutching a baby was recovered, and they were thought to be residents of the neighbourhood, Shuaib said. After nightfall, the search was suspended until Tuesday morning.
At one point on Monday morning, police fired tear gas at a surging crowd seeking to get a look at the crash site. At other spots around the site people desperately sought access to the wreckage to locate missing relatives.
They were denied access, with rescue workers combing the scene of the crash – the world’s worst air disaster so far this year – saying the bodies were unrecognisable.
“I just want to be sure of how he died,” one man told rescue workers of his brother.
Wreckage still smouldered at the grisly site near the airport. A two-storey residential building was badly damaged, while a church and a textbook printing warehouse were destroyed.
Local media reported that the crash was Nigeria’s worst since 1992, when a military C-130 went down after take-off 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.
Jonathan pledged action to improve air safety in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer.
“This particular incident is a major setback for us,” he said after viewing the destruction. “By the end of the day, I will make sure that this will not repeat itself in the country.”
At least one of the plane’s two cockpit recorders had been recovered, officials said.
The flight disappeared from radar screens on Sunday one minute after having declared the emergency at 15:43 local time (14:43 GMT), 11 nautical miles from the airport, a statement from the aviation minister said.
The crash of the plane, which was flying to Lagos from the capital Abuja, set off an inferno in the poor neighbourhood.
Dana had been considered a relatively safe and reasonably efficient domestic airline since it began operating in 2008.
The airline issued a statement on Monday specifying that the plane was carrying 146 passengers and seven crew – slightly different from an earlier account from a spokesperson saying there were 147 passengers and six crew.
China said six of its nationals were on the plane. The pilot was an American and the co-pilot was Indian, Demuren said.
And France said on Tuesday that one of its nationals, a woman, had also been on the flight.
The spokesperson for Nigerian state oil firm NNPC was also reportedly among the dead.
Chaos broke out after the crash, with rescue workers facing large crowds and aggressive soldiers while trying to access smouldering wreckage in the hunt for survivors.
After the tear gas fired on Monday morning however and a heavy security presence deployed, the scene was generally much calmer.
In the aftermath of the crash, thick smoke rose from the area and flames could be seen shooting from a two-storey building.
Thousands of onlookers had partially blocked access to the crash site on Sunday, prompting soldiers to try to clear out the area, using rubber whips and their fists. One even threw a wooden plank at those crowded around.
Lagos, the largest city in Africa’s most populous nation, is home to an estimated 15 million people.
The accident followed another plane crash Saturday in the capital of nearby Ghana, when a cargo plane overshot 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.
Breaking News 24 | June 4, 2012 | AFP
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