It was a black and bloody Sunday at the Iju area of Lagos State yesterday as a 152-passenger Dana Aircraft lost control and nosedived to the ground, exploding on residential buildings on Akande Street, off Poopola Street in the Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos State.
When THISDAY visited the crash site, confusion reigned as thousands trooped to the scene of the accident despite efforts by the police to curtail movement. However, no one was rescued alive from the fire rather charred bodies of the dead were brought out.
Apart from the passengers that died in the clash, about 15 persons who were inside the affected buildings were allegedly burnt to death as well. As at press time, concerted efforts were still being made by fire fighters and volunteers to extinguish the inferno.
The crash affected four buildings: a church and a two-storey residential building and two others around it.
"We Thought Armed Robbers Had Come Again"
But according to Meshach Oroye, another resident,- 'I thought armed robbers had invaded our area again'
Oroye said he had at first dismissed the explosion as the antics of armed robbers who had visited the area the previous night.
He said: "I was sleeping when I heard the first explosion, I did not bother to get up because I thought the armed robbers who robbed the area last night were back.
"I only got up to check when people were making noise only to behold the goriest sight I have ever witnessed in my life. The front of the plane was buried inside what used to be a palatial residential building while the rear was scattered everywhere.
Oroye who later joined the rescue team as volunteer fire fighters, said rescue efforts had to be shelved first to tackle the flame because, "the fire was so much that we had to shelve plans to rescue people and looked at how to quench the flames." In his narration, the plane was sighted at about 3.30pm swerving and making dangerous maneuvers before it crash landed on the residential buildings, killing both the passengers aboard the flight and the residents of four different houses.
"Human beings were roasted by fire as if they were the carcass of animals. It was something else. We were still lamenting on the loss of the lives of people that were in plane when it suddenly dawned on us that we were victims too.
"It was then people started looking for their loved ones; mothers were crying for their children and vice versa. Up till now, some people are still looking for the people that lived in the crashed building. We really tried to rescue but the fire was too much."
Delayed Rescue Efforts, As Fire Fighters Lack Enough Water
Condemning the poor rescue operations, Mr. Ngwama Justice, lamented that three hours after the explosion, the fire was still blazing despite efforts to quench it.
He said: "It is saddening that three hours after the plane crashed, the fire fighters were not able to quench the fire. First they complained of few hands but that soon turned to complains about not having enough water. In fact, there was no seriousness in the operation."
The complaint of insufficient water is a usual drawback in fire-fighting efforts in Nigeria.
Lost Everything But Life
One of the victims, Ms. Kofoworola Adebayo, who lost all her belongings to the inferno said she was grateful to have escaped with her life intact except for a few minor bruises.
She said: "It pains me that I lost all to the crash but I still thank God that I escaped with my life. I was sleeping when all of a sudden, I heard a loud noise, and I quickly ran outside and scaled the fence to safety.
"The first thing on my mind was safety and not my belongings. It was after I had run outside that I realised the enormity of what happened. I was favoured because the entire house I was in was razed to the ground."
"Thank God for the Kitchen Window"
Mrs. Chinyere Okafor, a mother of two, was another lucky survivor in the affected buildings.
Recounting the escape to THISDAY at her residence, which was one of the buildings that was engulfed in the explosion, she said she was outside when she saw the plane swerving dangerously.
She said she quickly ran inside to alert her husband and subsequent attempt to escape through the doors were aborted by the thick smoke that had engulfed the entire building upon the explosion.
Not about to give up, she said they quickly moved towards the kitchen and made their escape through the window before the fire spread and burnt down their own building.
Still trying to get her bearing, Mrs. Okafor, could not say if her neighbours survived the ordeal. She could only say that her next-door neighbour had gone to church and had not returned when the incident occurred.
We Knew the Plane Had Problem
One of the residents, Okechukwu Uche, said they all knew the plane had problems from the way it was swerving drunkenly. Claiming he followed the descent of the aircraft all the way from the Agbado Crossing, he said: "Even though we knew the plane had problems, I never knew it would crash especially in Iju because the houses are built together.
"I was not really at the scene when it crashed but I got there few minutes after the crash since I was following the descent of the plane. When we got to Akande and saw the smoke and fire, I knew that there was trouble."
The Pilot Was Battling to Save the Plane
Some of the eyewitnesses who spoke to THISDAY said the pilot may have tried to fly the plane out of densely-populated area, as the aircraft kept swerving from one side to the other, until it finally crashed into the affected buildings.
Speaking to THISDAY, Ms Chinaza Ekwunife, a resident of the area, said they were shocked when they saw the plane flying low with a lot of grinding noise. He said whilst they were still confused and wondering what was amiss, " the plane crashed and burst into flames."
Confirming the incident, the state police spokesman, Mr. Joseph Jaiyeoba, a superintendent of police, said all hands are on deck to put out the fire.
Concerted efforts made by THISDAY to speak to the officials attached to the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), on the outcome of their preliminary on-the-spot investigation of the crash scene, proved abortive.
However speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the officers said definite conclusions cannot be drawn on the spot about the cause of the explosion, adding that efforts are being made to recover the brain box of the craft.
Another resident, Taiwo Ogunlana, said "I thought Boko Haram had finally made good their threat to unleash their mayhem in Lagos. It was just about 3:30 pm when I heard a loud noise. I rushed to the site only to behold this huge flame and I joined to help put out the fire" .
The families of Chief Dan Nzelu and Ogbueshi Innocent Itisichei were in a mourning mood yesterday when the honey moon of their children who wedded on Saturday was fouled with the death of six of their guests including brides maid in the ill fated Dana airplane that crashed in Lagos on Sunday.
When THISDAY called the home of the newly wedded Ekenemchukwu John Itisichei from Asaba Delta state but a cousin of the Nwodos from Enugu state, the mood was terrible for any interview.
The wedding took place at Assumption Cathloic Church Asokoro and they had their well attended reception at the BMO tent in Maitama Abuja.