Before the crash in the densely populated Lagos suburb of Iju Ishaga penultimate Sunday June 3, Dana Air operators pride themselves in offering the highest levels of safety and service. They are not expected to say anything less than that, at least to attract the confidence and trust of air travellers.
As regards general safety of the passengers, Dana Air affirmed thus: "Your safety and comfort will always be our priority. Our cabin crew are highly trained in all procedures and it is important that you pay attention to our pre-flight safety briefing. Always note where your nearest exits are and please read the safety information card. All request made by cabin crew in the interest of safety must be complied with."
One can therefore imagine the anguish and fear that gripped the passengers when it became apparent that the plane will crash. All safety procedures cannot hold water at that point, flying four storey high, which was just too low before the plane with 153 passengers crashed into some houses killing all on board and some few people on the ground.
What about the aircraft itself, a Boeing MD-83 which had lost its two engines before the fatal crash! The MD-83 was described as a longer range development of the basic MD 81/82 with higher weights, more powerful engines, increased fuels and hence longer range.
Compared to earlier models, the MD-83 is equipped with slightly more powerful 21,000 ibf (93 KN) thrust Pratt and Whitney JT8D-219 as standard.
The MD-83 has increased fuel capacity as standard (to 6,970 US gal) which is carried in two 565 US gallons auxiliary tanks located fore and aft of the centre section. The aircraft also has higher operating weights with MTOW increased to 160,000 1b and MLW to 139,500 lb. Typical range for the MD83 with 155 passengers is around 2,504 nautical miles (4,637 km).
To cope with the higher operating weights, the MD-83 incorporates strengthened landing gear, including new wheels, tyres and brakes, changes to the wing skins, front spar web and elevator spar cap and strengthened floor beams and panels to carry the auxiliary fuel tanks.
However, in the Iju Ishaga crash, the two engines of the plane failed before going down. This was confirmed by Dr. Harold Demuren, Director General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), who said that they declared mayday (distress call), adding, "the reason was that the two engines failed." He has been suspended.
It did not take too long for the aircraft's black boxes to be found, less than 24 hours after the crash. Both the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) were found by Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) officials from the wreckage of the MD-83 plane.
Saturday Vanguard investigation roughly showed that the aircraft made distress call but the follow-up measures taken by the aviation regulatory agency were slow. The pilot alerted ground at 11 nautical miles till four nautical miles when it crashed. Response was slow and there were no proper infrastructure to address the challenge.
So much of political interference in the running of the aviation sector and professionals ignored. Supervisory ministry often bypass the regulatory agencies leading to overlapping functions capable of causing confusion.
Former Head of Aeronautical Search and Rescue of the old Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) before the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) was carved out, Rev. Alfred Edukugho, now Airport Manager, Asaba, speaking with Saturday Vanguard, said safety standards are the same all over the world.
"There is no Nigerian standard. What happened has nothing to do with Air Control officers. The aircraft itself had problem. There are people meant to carry out safety checks to ensure airworthiness. It is not about newness of the aircraft but carrying out proper checks at stipulated period." He explained that the difference between old and new aircraft is about providing money for adequate maintenance when due.
"Air safety depends on maintenance. It's about the maintenance culture of the airline and the supervisory/regulatory agency making sure maintenance is taking care of according to schedule. It is not possible for the NCAA to carry out checks on its own. But if the airline decides to hide something, there is nothing the regulatory body can do," Edukugho told Saturday Vanguard.
He said there is a technical log book which airline operators must fill in respect of every defect, no matter how small. Even a revolution of the engine, if meant to revolve once in a second, but revolves twice, it must be so stated. If outside of it by any small margin, it is incumbent on the operator to put it inside the technical log book - which is looked at to know if there are faults in the aircraft. Questions can then be asked.
"Every landing must be registered; even the tyre must be inspected accordingly after landing. A lot of airlines don't adhere strictly to this, hence at times, the NCAA comes in to check. These are the little things that make inspection difficult."
The seasoned aeronautical professional also drew attention to Ramp random check when the regulators just enter into the plane, go round, and if satisfied, signed the log book. These things are there, depending on how honest the airline operators can be.
"There is check list to go through by pilots and co-pilots. It is not something done off-head, but itemised one by one. Engine check, pressure check, done meticulously one by one especially by the pilots. These things are here, to to be read, checked and ascertained, not taken for granted at all."
He distinguished the responsibilities between Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigeria Airspace Management Authority (NAMA). "If a crash occurs inside the airport, it is the business of FAAN. If an accident occurs outside the airport, it is the business of NAMA."
Mr. Emmanuel Osifo, General Manager, Aircraft Worthiness and Certification, NCAA, denied there is political interference in the running of the aviation sector. According to him, no aircraft over 22 years old is allowed into this country. Those below 22 years can be imported into Nigeria.
In a radio discussion on the Dana air crash with some heads of aviation agencies, he said NCAA does not have helicopter for rescue operation. "We don't have helicopter. We are regulatory body. Aviation rescue is different. When accidents happen, all hands are on deck - Air force, Police, Army, FRSC, all on ground for rescue purpose, everybody participating to save lives."
He pleaded that we wait for the close of the investigation and learn something. Aviation is global, having high safety standards.
Engineer Nnamdi Udoh, Managing Director, Nigeria Airspace Management Authority (NAMA) said that if averting the crash is possible to know, only the analysis of the flight recorded can tell. No one can say anything about it.
In case of emergency, the airspace can be cleared to prevent being used by other planes. It was not true that the airspace was blocked at the time the plane crashed, and absolutely not correct for airspace to be closed for two hours as there are rules which guide closing and opening of airspace.
Many reasons can be attributed to why the emergency doors could not be opened for passengers to jump out. Generally in engineering sense, there could be distortion or the doors jammed because of the impact. Had the emergency response been timely, lives can be rescued.
An eyewitness said a young white lady and another man believed to be the pilot came out burning, pointing out that, "if the rescue team had arrived on time, some of the dead won't have been burnt beyond recognition." The landing gears were already out as the plane piloted by an American was trying to get to the airport, just three minutes after the distress call. In such situation, time is essential.
In split seconds, anything can happen. For over 20 minutes after the crash, there was no rescue other than some persons rushing to loot the burning aircraft and taking pictures of the tragic incident with mobile phones and Black Berry, circulating such horrific photos in the internet.
Mr. Sam Durogboye, Public Affairs Director, NCAA, explained that when calls are received, the control tower will activate fire tender to be on standby, getting set, waiting for the distressed aircraft about to land.
Immediately after the crash, the crowd surged to the site and so difficult for rescue response to get there. NCAA has no helicopter, except a flying jet for rescue and search. It's only Police that have helicopter to act. The need for strong inter-agency co-operation in times of emergency cannot be over-emphasised, because it's not a one-man issue.
On whether airlines are overtaxed, he said cost recovery is what government is charging them. It's the airline that knows if over burdened. Five per cent of ticket sales charge is added to air fare. FAAN also gets service charge.
On compensation for victims and their relations, this can only be determined after autopsy and DNA (Deoyriobonucleic Acid) test have been carried out on corpses for proper identification to enable Dana Air's insurance company pay compensation to families of the victims.
According to Mr. Ade Ipaye, Lagos State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, with proper documentation and data, compensation due to any of the victims will not go into wrong hands. Addressing the media, he affirmed that each of the victims is entitled to compensation, adding that even corpses whose families have not shown up, with the data and documentation, any time they showed up, they will collect the compensation due to them.
Scope of Compensation
According to our checks, Dana Air is expected to pay over $153 million (US dollars) to families of all the 153 passengers on board the ill-fated aircraft. Based on the revised Montreal Convention for compensation payable to families of air crash victims, Dana air is to pay $100,000 (US dollars) for each of the passengers who died in the crash.
The Montreal Convention is a treaty of International Civil Aviation Organisatioin (ICAO) member-states adopted in 1999 also called the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air. It protects passengers with a two-tier liability scheme and by quick recovery of proven damages without recourse to cumbersome lengthy litigation. Nigeria is a signatory to the Montreal Convention. Lloyds London is believed to be the insurance company.