This Day (Lagos)

13 February 2013

Nigeria: Dana Air Plane Crash Blamed On Human Error

Investigations have confirmed that the inability of the pilot to turn on the fuel pumps of the ill-fated Dana Air flight that crashed at a Lagos suburb on June 3, 2012, killing about 160 people, led to the failure of the two engines and the eventual crash.

The captain of the aircraft, Peter Waxtan, an American, who was already due for holiday on the day of the crash and who had his flight ticket to travel to the United States on the day of the crash, was making his last flight to Lagos from Abuja when the plane crashed, killing all on board and a few people on the ground.

Reports indicated that 17 minutes into the flight, Waxtan noticed problems with one of the engines of the aircraft and a little later, the second engine of the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft went off and it lost attitude before it crashed a few minutes to landing at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.

The MD-83, operated by Dana Air, lost power from both engines while approaching the Lagos airport last June and slammed into an apartment building, killing at least six more people on the ground.

Although investigations into the accident is still ongoing, a report published in The Wall Street Journal showed that the accident was likely caused by the crew's failure to properly monitor fuel flow and turn on certain fuel pumps, according to people familiar with the joint investigation by the US and Nigerian officials.

That would result in both engines shutting down almost simultaneously from lack of fuel. No other significant problems were discovered with the engines or other systems of the aircraft, the officials said, and the 22-year-old plane had plenty of fuel on board to reach the airport.

Partly fed by that fuel, the crash sparked an intense fire that raged for nearly a day and compromised the flight-data recorder. So investigators had less data to rely on than is usual in modern jetliner crashes and are still working on the final wording of the report.

The preliminary focus on pilot error could be toned down, according to two people familiar with the details.

The cockpit voice recorder, which survived intact, showed the pilots spent the last 25 seconds unsuccessfully trying to restart the engines.

A preliminary report issued last year by Nigeria's Accident Investigation Bureau did not say why the engines shut down.

From the transcript of the conversation between the air traffic controllers and Waxtan, the aircraft lost power from both engines while approaching the Lagos airport and crashed into the residential building at Iju/Ishaga.

Reacting to the latest development, the Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, confirmed that it was a human error that caused the crash, adding that about 80 per cent of air accidents are caused by human error.

"We believe the truth is coming out. We know it is human error. It has been confirmed that it was not engine failure; it was not maintenance issue or oversight issue, or airspace problem but human error. The captain did not follow standard procedure. He did not open the pumps. It is called flame out and that was why he reported that there was no response from the throttle...he forgot to open the fuel pump," Demuren said in an interview with THISDAY.

The Commissioner of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Captain Usman Murkter, who told THISDAY that he did not wish to comment on the report, explained that accident investigation is scientific and would not depend on such reports, adding that the pilot would not want to kill himself.

"We shall appreciate anytime you have this kind of report you let us know. I cannot react to hearsay. We are interested in protecting our airspace. I will not comment on this but the pilot did not want to die," Murkter said.

"We have nothing to hide," said Dana spokesman, Tony Usidamen, who declined to comment on the crash's cause until the report is completed. "We hope that the government will take the decision to make the report public... It may or may not affect how the average traveller views the industry."

Few weeks after the tragic incident, a seasoned Nigerian pilot, Captain Tito Omaghiomi, blamed the pilot for the accident and alleged that he did not follow his checklist in response to the emergency that resulted from the failure of the two engines.

Omaghiomi, who has operated flights for more than 30 years in Nigeria, observed that it was wrong to have allowed Waxton who was going on leave and was excited about it, to operate the aircraft, adding that it was his errors that caused the crash.

"Emergency don't kill, it is the action or inaction of the pilot that causes most plane crashes. In fact, what they did, as far as I am concerned, in the Dana plane crash is a cowboy operation. They did not do their job the way they should have done it. So it is their fault," he had said.

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