People look at the wreckage of a Nigerian airliner in a field
in Abuja, Nigeria Sunday, Oct. 29, 2006. [AP]
ABUJA, Nigeria - A
Nigerian airliner with 104 people on board slammed into the ground moments after
takeoff on Sunday - the third deadly crash of a passenger plane in less
than a year in this West African nation known for its notoriously unsafe air
industry. Six people survived, and the rest were believed dead.
Among those killed was the man regarded as the spiritual leader of Nigeria's
Muslims, and thousands of people gathered at a regional airport to receive his
The Boeing 737 crashed one minute after taking off from Abuja airport, said
Sam Adurogboye, an Aviation Ministry spokesman. President Olusegun Obasanjo
ordered an immediate investigation into the cause of the crash, his spokeswoman
Remi Oyo said.
Rescue workers found debris from the smashed plane, body parts and luggage
strewn over an area the size of a football field. The plane went down inside the
sprawling airport compound about two miles from the runway. Smoke rose from the
aircraft's mangled and smoldering fuselage. Its tail hung from a tree.
Emergency workers pulled blackened corpses from the wreckage, then covered
the bodies with white sheets and hauled them away in stretchers. An Associated
Press reporter counted at least 50 cadavers, though other bodies had been
transported earlier to local morgues.
Through the day, airport security officials kept back anxious people seeking
information about friends or loved ones.
Adurogboye said 104 passengers and crew had been aboard the doomed flight,
and he knew of six survivors who had been taken to a hospital. "Obviously the
rest are feared dead," he said.
The plane was bound for the northwest city of Sokoto,
about 500 miles northwest of Abuja, state radio said, adding that it had gone
down during a storm. Witnesses said there was a rainstorm around the time the
aircraft took off, but rains later subsided, giving way to overcast skies.
In an announcement broadcast on state radio, the Sokoto state government
announced the sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido, died in the crash. Maccido
headed the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Nigeria. The panel
determines when Muslim fasts should begin and end, and decides policy for
Nigeria's overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims.
Maccido was immediately flown to Sokoto, where thousands of people were at
the airport to receive his body. He was buried Sunday in accordance with Islamic
custom, and the Sokoto state government declared six days of mourning.
Mustapha Shehu, spokesman for the Sokoto state government, had said earlier
that the sultan's son, Muhammed Maccido, a senator, also was aboard the flight,
along with Abdulrahman Shehu Shagari, son of former Nigerian President Shehu
Shagari, who was in office between 1979 and 1983. Their fates were not
About half of Nigeria's 130 million people are Muslims. The country is the
most populous in Africa and the continent's leading oil exporter.
Oyo said Obasanjo was "deeply and profoundly shocked and saddened ... he
offers condolences to all Nigerians, especially family, friends and associates
of those who may have been on board."
The 23-year-old aircraft, a Boeing 737-2B7 owned by Aviation Development Co.,
a private Nigerian airline, was manufactured in 1983, Adurogboye said. ADC last
suffered a crash in November 1996, when one of its jets plunged into a lagoon
outside Nigeria's main city, Lagos, killing all 143 aboard.
Last year, two planes flying domestic routes crashed within seven weeks of
each other in Nigeria, killing 224 people.
On Oct. 22, 2005, a Boeing 737-200 belonging to Bellview airlines crashed
soon after takeoff from the country's main city of Lagos, killing all 117 people
aboard. On Dec. 10, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 plane operated by Sosoliso Airlines
crashed while approaching the oil city of Port Harcourt, killing 107 people,
most of them schoolchildren going home for Christmas.
Earlier this month, authorities released a report blaming the Sosoliso crash
on bad weather and pilot error. The investigation of the Bellview crash is still
After last year's air crashes, Obasanjo vowed to overhaul Nigeria's airline
industry, blaming some of the industry's problems on corruption. Airlines were
subjected to checks for air-worthiness and some planes considered unworthy were