Aviation authorities said Thursday that 13 people were confirmed dead in a crash involving an airplane that was to convey the body of former governor of Ondo state, Olusegun Agagu, and sympathizers, from Lagos to Akure, the Ondo state capital, for funeral rites.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Aviation, Joe Obi, said 20 people - 13 passengers and seven crew members - were on board the aircraft when the accident occurred, and said 13 people were confirmed dead, six injured, and one person unaccounted for.
Early reports suggested fewer fatalities, with claims one of Mr Agagu's sons, who travelled on the plane, was amongst the survivors. That report could not be confirmed as the aviation ministry was yet to release the official record of passengers.
The Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB, which also confirmed the number of casualties, said families of the victims would be contacted first before it released the names on the manifest.
The bureau said those injured were receiving treatment and that it had set up an emergency response centre to attend to families of d victims.
Search and Rescue operations closed at 12.50p.m, while investigation into the accident has begun, the bureau added.
Witnesses say the plane, 5N-BJY, operated by Associated Airlines, had barely taken off from the domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, when it plunged into an open field near an aviation fuel depot at about 9.30 a.m.
An eye witness said that the aircraft, which was "shaking in the air," nosedived into the ground and exploded about 15 minutes later.
"When I was passing, me and one of my friends, we saw the plane turning in the sky. It looked like the pilot wanted to turn back but there was no power for him to do that," Olayemi Fawole, who works with a limousine bus shuttle at the airport, told PREMIUM TIMES.
"After we saw the head going down, we started running towards that direction. When we went there, the flight has already crashed. We saw one woman trying to pull herself out, she was still alive," Mr. Fawole said, adding that he counted eight corpses.
Spokesman of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, Yakubu Datti, speaking with news channel, Al Jazeera, said the plane suffered engine failure.
"Yes, we can confirm to you that an 'Emperor 160' belonging to Associated Airline crashed just after take-off from Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. The propeller aircraft crashed about 9.42am on its way to Akure carrying 20 persons," Mr Datti said.
He also confirmed the flight recorder had been retrieved.
The impact of the crash ripped the plane's fuselage in two, tore its tyres and removed the wings from the plane's hull.
Fight over a coffin
Rescue officials sliced through the 30 seater Brazilian-made Embraer EMB 120 aircraft to pull out bodies from the charred wreckage.
The Flight Data Recorder was also recovered from the plane as fire fighters struggled to put out the dying flames from the accident.
The impact of the crash tore away the aircraft's tyres and wings from its body.
Near the smoldering tail of the plane, a blackened Nikkon camera, an Ipad, a padlocked travelling bag, and an almost burnt airplane flight manual lay on the ground.
A few metres away, security agencies battled with journalists, with the former insisting that photos must be taken after rescue operations.
The real battle, however, occurred when a badly dented coffin of Mr. Agagu was forced out of the wreckage.
Naval officers, fire service officers, the police, as well as the officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, engaged one another in a heated argument over who would take custody of the coffin.
Minutes later, it was unanimously resolved that the remains of the former Minister be deposited at the Nigeria Airforce hospital within the airport's compound.
"There was not supposed to be any fight. In any emergency case within Lagos State, the incident commander is the general manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA)," said Wale Ahmed, Lagos State Commissioner for Special Duties.
Burial rites on hold
The crash brought to a tragic halt, a series of week-long obsequies that was to peak with Mr. Agagu's burial on Friday in Ondo state which he governed between May 2003 and February 2009, before a court removed him from office.
Early Thursday, officials of the state government, led by Governor Olusegun Mimiko, had gathered at the Akure airport end waiting to receive his body and guests.
After news of the accident filtered in, members of the entourage and family members relocated to the Ondo state Government House, apparently distressed, over an accident that has shocked the nation.
The state government said in a statement later that the state could only hope on God for mercy and strength to bear the losses. At least one commissioner from the state was on the ill-fated plane. It was unclear if the commissioner survived the accident.
"No doubt, this is an unfortunate disaster in the life of our dear state. We can only pray that God will visit the state with mercy and give us all the strength to bear these unfortunate losses," the statement said.
The government urged residents to be in a "sober and prayerful mood at these trying times as God is indeed the only person we should call upon in this period".
Born in 1948, Mr Agagu was former geology lecturer at the University of Ibadan, before venturing into politics. He was at different times Nigeria's Aviation and Power Minister.
Mr Agagu died on September 13. The funeral events began at the University of Ibadan on Monday, and he was to be buried on Friday. It remained unclear whether the family had rescheduled the burial.
Tributes poured in for the family throughout Thursday, many expressing shock at the turn of events.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, said he was left "sad and heartbroken".
The Northern Governors' Forum called for thorough investigation into the accident.
"The safety of the flying public must be of paramount importance to those saddled with the responsibility of ensuring safe air travels, and no stone should be left unturned in ensuring this," the forum said in a statement by its chairman, Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger state.
Thursday's accident came exactly 16 months after a Dana Air plane crashed into a crowded Lagos suburb killing all 163 people on board as well as about a dozen people on the ground.