19 March 2008

Nigeria: Missing Plane Still Not Found

Abuja — Four days after a Beechcraft 1900D aircraft belonging to Wing Airline was declared missing by aviation authorities, the search team said yesterday that logistics were hampering their search for it.

One of the searchers, the chairman of the Yala Local Government Area, told journalists yesterday, "The vegetation here is too expansive and a thick canopy overhangs the entire landscape. Without sophisticated equipment, it would be difficult to locate the place. Our team has been on it since last night and will not give up until the place is located."

The search team comprises Barrister Fidel Egoro, chairman of Yala LGA, Lt. Col. P.B. Fakrogah, commander of 341 Artillery Regiment, Ogoja; Mr Joe Eweh, chairman of Ogoja LGA; the DPO of Ogoja, Mr S. T. Okuguru; Mr Vincent Aqua, the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), National Emergency Management (NEMA) and government officials from Abuja.

The team have expressed disappointment over their fruitless efforts in searching for the plane in Yala LGA of Cross River State.

The search team leader, Mr. Casmir Obok, the special adviser to the state governor on special duties, lamented that their efforts yielded no positive results.

He said they had combed the places where the plane was reported to have been seen without anything to show for it.

"We engaged the services of local farmers and hunters to help us locate the plane. We have been at it since midnight on Sunday till late evening Monday and have not been able to locate the crash site. Fishermen who claimed to have seen the plane did not come up to tell us where it is. We have decided to suspend the search because of the bad weather," Mr Obok said.

The NEMA helicopter that had been flying round the place was still going round yesterday. The Wing Airline officials were yet to arrive Ogoja.

Governor Imoke has promised to use every means at his disposal to ensure that the crash site is located at the shortest possible time.

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday took a swipe at officials of the aviation sector for not being able to know the whereabouts of the aircraft or locate the wreckage after four days of being declared missing.

Senate president, David Mark, said it was a "shame and embarrassment to this country."

He said that if it were in some "serious countries, somebody would have thrown in the towel," adding,"it was sad that in four days, nobody could come out and tell the nation the true situation of things."

Deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, also described the situation as embarrassing to all senators and all Nigerians, not just because they couldn't find the aircraft, but also because the nation was misled into believing that the wreckage had been found only for the authorities to apologise later. He said it was time the aviation authorities woke up to their responsibilities.

The vexed issue was triggered by Senator Anyim Ude, chairman of Senate Commitee on Aviation, who briefed the Senate on the true situation of the missing aircraft.

He said contrary to earlier claim, the true situation was that up till yesterday (as at press time) they were unable to establish contact with the aircraft and that all involved, including the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and National Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) have been working round the clock but all to no avail.

He said the false story of locating the wreckage emerged when residents of a village in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State alerted the local government chairman that they saw a plunging aircraft and he in turn alerted the state governor who also alerted the aviation authorities who went on air without confirmation. But when NEMA officers visited the site they did not see any wreckage.

Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) said a situation where relevant aviation authorities would rely on governors and local government chairmen for their information without confirmation was unacceptable and embarrassing.

He said the aviation authorities had always misled the nation in such a situation, including when a Bellview aircraft crashed. He said it was time that somebody began to take responsibility.

Senator Smart Adeyemi, in his contribution, said it was a national shame rather than embarrassment for an aircraft to be missing for four days.

"By now some people should have taken responsibility. It is an exposure of an inadequacy to respond to emergency situation."

Ayogu Eze, on his part, said the aircraft, though new, was not equipped with communication gadgets in compliance with Senate resolution.

He said their experience during oversight functions was that the staff of NEMA were not interested in improving their services to the nation, but are rather pre-occupied with other issues.

He insisted that the only aircraft they had must be cleared from the presidency before moving out of Abuja.

He suggested that a comprehensive public hearing be conducted on the aviation industry.

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