We at Air Ambulance Weekly are saddened over the news of the Nigerian airliner crash Sunday that resulted in a reported 193 deaths.
The crash of Flight 992 had the highest death toll of any aircraft incident in Nigeria in twenty years. It also has the highest fatalities of any accident involving the MD-80 airliner.
Reports still vary, but at least 40 people on the ground were killed as a result of the crash into a built-up area near the airport; all 153 passengers and crew members on board the airliner perished from the impact.
Fires were still burning yesterday amidst the building rubble created by the crashed airliner. Photos from Reuters and the Associated Press showed the charred aircraft wreckage amid a colossal amount of smoking debris, with the contorted metal skeletons of destroyed buildings forming a backdrop. Nearby rooftops of concrete buildings were packed with people watching the search for bodies in the debris.
Rescue workers and emergency specialists had been working valiantly since Sunday to extinguish fires and recover bodies. Their progress, however, was slowed by difficulties getting ambulances and needed equipment to the crash site, according to various reports.
Incredibly, over half a million civilians attempted to approach the crash site, according to The Sun. Some attempted to bring water hoses and buckets to help put out the raging fires. However, as ambulances and other emergency vehicles attempted to reach the site, soldiers began trying to disperse the crowds using rubber batons and their bare fists. Members of the crowd then began throwing stones at the soldiers in retaliation, and the area around the inferno erupted into even greater chaos.
The densely-populated city of Lagos was unprepared to respond to such a disaster; no one could have predicted the accident that occurred Sunday, nor the area in which it did.
Despite quick response, firefighters faced a dire shortage of water and trucks. For hours, civilians carrying buckets of water composed a large part of the firefighting effort. Large trucks trying to convey water to battle the flames unfortunately had a great deal of trouble actually reaching the site due to narrow roads.
According to many different accounts of the incident, the pilot of the Nigerian airliner had radioed the control tower and reported that two engines were experiencing problems. Further reports say that the crew declared an emergency 20 kilometers from the runway at Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
A Nigerian news web site called Sahara Reporters claimed that the plane may have regained engine power just before it crashed short of Runway 18L; witnesses apparently heard a very loud sound and saw the plane flying extremely low before it apparently hit a power line and landed on either its belly or tail.
Witnesses said they heard a large explosion followed by multiple smaller explosions before seeing billowing black smoke in the sky.
According to international laws, the United States will have observer status of the investigation because the plane was manufactured by a U.S. company. However, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority will guide the investigation. Dana Air has stated that they will cooperate and assist the Civil Aviation Authority and NTSB in any way they can.
The black box and flight data recorder for the plane have already been recovered and given to the Accident Investigation Bureau. It is possible that these critical clues to what caused the crash will be shipped to the NTSB in the United States as well.
There is no conclusive evidence as to what caused the airliner to crash as of yet.
Looking at the sheer size and intensity of the fire and black smoke that resulted immediately following the impact, we can say it is very unlikely that the plane had run out of fuel. It is also theoretically possible that flammable materials in the building that was hit (which apparently housed a furniture shop and printing press) may have also contributed to the spread of the flames, but this would be pure speculation on our part.
Corroborating unconfirmed reports of the pilot’s messages to the control tower, it is reasonable to conclude that both engines were probably experiencing problems, as U.S.-manufactured jet airliners like made in the United States like the MD-83 are capable of maintaining flight with only one engine.
Aviation experts point out that, according to its certifications, the MD-83 should be able to stay airborne, approach a runway, and complete a landing with less than the full power of one engine.
Thus, while we do not yet know why, both engines on the jet were very likely malfunctioning at the same time. Furthermore, people on the ground who saw the plane approaching the runway at extremely low altitude reportedly described the way the aircraft was flying as if the pilot were having trouble maintaining engine power.
Dana Air released a press release yesterday expressing their heartfelt condolences and grief over the incident, and releasing more detailed information about the specific aircraft’s history and the crew’s experience. The company canceled all of its flights Monday and updated its home page to show respect for the victims of the crash.
Three days of national mourning were declared by Nigeria’s President Jonathan. Further, the President promised that “every possible effort” would be made to improve aviation safety in the country.
When the crash occurred, many Nigerians were in the midst mourning the deaths of 12 people after a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle filled with explosives at a church in Yelwa earlier that day.
The day before, a Boeing 727 cargo plane operated by a Nigerian aviation company overshot a runway in Ghana and hit a bus, causing the deaths of 10 people.
The international crew and passengers of Flight 992 hailed from Nigeria, Cameroon, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Sweden, and the United States.
Following such a tragic incident, all we can hope for, perhaps, is that the cause of the crash will be ascertained, and the problem – whatever its nature – can be remedied so that future incidents like this can be avoided.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and loved ones of all of Dana Flight 992′s passengers and crewmembers.