Briton dies, four others wounded as plane crashes in Port Harcourt
From Joseph Ollor Obari,
Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt) and
Tunji Oketunbi (Lagos)
RESIDENTS of Ipo village, about 700 meters from the Port Harcourt International Airport in the early hours of yesterday, woke up shocked as a Boeing 747 cargo aircraft belonging to M.K. Airlines swirled and crashed in their area, killing a British engineer on board and wounding four of the other 12-member British and American crew.
Aviation Minister Kema Chikwe who visited the site yesterday, said the cause of the crash which occurred at about 1.56 a.m. was yet unknown. The aircraft had left Luxembourg for Johannesburg in South Africa via Port Harcourt.
Airport sources said that the plane, which had but two minutes to land, suddenly lost contact with the control tower.
Chikwe who was visibly shocked by the extent of the wreckage, said the managing director of the National Airways Management Authority (NAMA) called at 4 am. to inform her of the incident.
"I had just woken up and I asked the immediate questions on human lives and, what the situation was, whether all our equipment was functioning, because I came here not too long ago to inspect all the facilities. The equipment were all functional, so we ruled out the possibility of equipment failure," she said.
The minister emphasised that there was light at the airport as the generator was in good condition and the airport operation had remained uninterrupted.
On her arrival in Port Harcourt, the minister drove straight to the Intel Clinic to ascertain the condition of the survivors of the crash.
Of what she saw at the clinic, she said: "For a layman, any injury is serious. I saw blood and people lying down, some looking more critical than others, but I am told adequate arrangement was being made to send an air ambulance to fly them to Zurich, because they are foreigners."
Asked if the victims were able to describe what happened to them, she said: "They were all in a state of shock and confusion and I did not think I should even ask such question. A plane crash is not a car crash. It is something that is very technical and is best handled by professionals. So the most they could do was to describe their experience, but they could not determine the cause of the crash.
"It is only when Airport Investigation Bureau complete their work then we can have a clue of what actually happened. I don't think at this stage anybody can attribute this to any specific cause."
She said it was sheer miracle that the cockpit severed from the fuselage, a major factor in the survival of the rest of the crew.
"There is a miracle here, even the separation is like God on His own separated the aircraft. You can see where the passengers were was intact. They were in the upper deck and it was only the engineer that was down that died. It's amazing that they were secured where they were. There was no fire on that side. They would have all died," she added.
She promised that the airport clinic would be upgraded to cope with emergencies like this in the future.
At the site, the wreckage still smouldered. Only part of the name could be discerned from the severed parts while there was nothing left of the aircraft registration number.
Accident investigators and officials from the Federal Ministry of Aviation left Lagos yesterday for Port Harcourt to probe the crash.
Although there was no official statement from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), information gathered in Lagos indicated the aircraft was operated by Accra-based M.K. Airlines on behalf of a Nigerian operator.
A similar accident involving an aircraft belonging to the same operator occurred on approach to landing at the Port Harcourt airport about four years ago.
No official statement was issued by the airline yesterday.