Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has declared three days of national mourning after a passenger jet crashed into a Lagos suburb on Sunday and killed all 153 people on board.
Emergency workers used cadaver dogs and cranes to search the site for corpses on Monday and said they feared many more people on the ground died as a result of the crash. Officials said searchers were still looking for the aircraft’s “black box” recorder.
Jonathan “has declared a three-day period of national mourning for all those who lost their lives in the Dana plane crash in Lagos today”, a statement from the president’s s office said.
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After viewing the site of the crash, the country’s worst in almost two decades, Jonathan described the incident as a “setback” for the country’s aviation industry.
“By the end of the day, I will make sure that this will not repeat itself in the country,” he said.
Reporting from Lagos, Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege said that according to Nigeria’s Ministry of Aviation the pilots had reported a problem to air traffic control shortly before the plane went down. However, she added authorities have not yet released an official statement as to the cause of the crash.
“Engine failure is one thing that’s being discussed, and it appears from everything we’re hearing so far that it could’ve been the cause,” Ndege said.
Harold Denuren, of Nigeria’s Civil Aviation Authority, confirmed that there were no survivors from the accident involving the Dana Air flight from Abuja to Lagos.
“The fear is that since it happened in a residential area, there may have been many people killed,” Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, said.
The Boeing MD83 came down in a densely populated neighbourhood near Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport, destroying buildings.
A disastrous history
Lagos airport has been shut down and passengers awaiting later flights were told to go home.
Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Abuja, said some people on the ground in Lagos believed the plane may have hit a power line before crashing into a building and bursting into flames.
Others suggested it had hit a building directly.
Recent major airline crashes in Nigeria
June 3: Dana Air flight from Abuja to Lagos crashes killing all 153 people on board.
October 29, 2006: Aviation Development Co. flight from Abuja to Sokoto crashes, killing 96 people, including the top spiritual leader for the nation’s Muslims.
December 10, 2005: Sosoliso Airlines flight full of schoolchildren flying from Abuja to Port Harcourt crashes, killing 107 people.
October 22, 2005: Bellview Airlines flight crashes, killing 117 people.
May 4, 2002: EAS airliner with 77 people aboard crashes into northern city of Kano, killing 73 people aboard and 76 on the ground.
Lagos-based Dana Air has five aircraft in its fleet and runs both regional and domestic flights. It has announced on its website that all Monday flights have been canceled.
Dana Air says it wants “to be recognised and respected as Nigeria’s most reliable and customer-friendly airline” and operated 27 daily flights to five national destinations by the end of 2011.
“The airline began commercial flight operations on Monday, November 10, 2008 and has grown to become one of Nigeria’s leading airlines, operating daily flights to Abuja, Calabar, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Uyo,” it said.
The plane that crashed on Sunday was purchased from US-based Alaska Airlines and one of four McDonnell Douglas-83 aircraft owned by Dana Air.
According to specialised aviation safety websites, it was built in 1990 and sold on to Dana Air in 2009.
Its safety record shows that it suffered two incidents that led to an emergency diversion and an evacuation in 2002 and 2006 due to technical faults causing smoke in the cabin.
In Nigeria in April 2010, it was forced to perform an emergency landing after loss of engine power caused by a bird strike.
Lagos’ international airport is a major hub for West Africa and saw 2.3 million passengers pass through it in 2009, according to the most recent statistics provided by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.
The crash is not the first in Nigeria, which has a history of major aviation disasters.
In August 2010, the US announced it had given Nigeria the Federal Aviation Administration’s Category 1 status, its top safety rating that allows the West African nation’s domestic carriers to fly directly to the US.
But many travelers remain wary of some airlines. The country is beset by government corruption and mismanagement.
On Saturday night, a Nigerian Boeing 727 cargo airliner crashed in Accra, the capital of Ghana, hitting a bus and killing 10 people. The aircraft belonged to Lagos-based Allied Air Cargo.
Nigeria has tried to redeem its aviation image in recent years, saying it now has full radar coverage of the entire country. However, in a nation where the state-run electricity company is in tatters, the power grid and diesel generators sometimes both fail at airports, making radar screens go blank.
Sunday’s crash appeared to be the worst since September 1992, when a military transport plane crashed into a swamp shortly after takeoff from Lagos. All 163 army soldiers, relatives and crew members on board were killed.
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