Abuja — Thousands of Abuja-bound travellers were, yesterday, stranded at airports across the country, following an incident involving a Saudi Arabian cargo plane on the runway of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, which led to closure of the facility.
The temporary closure of the airport, to make way for evacuation of the Boeing 747 aircraft, led to cancellation of flights into the airport. It was, however, re-opened 18 hours after it was shut to traffic.
Although there were different accounts of the incident, a staff of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria FAAN, who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, said the large cargo plane had landed at the airport at about 9p.m. on Wednesday night and was taxiing along the runway when it hit construction equipment parked close to the runway.
The source further revealed that the impact of the incident damaged the aircraft and rendered it immobile.
No tow equipment
It was also gathered that due to lack of equipment to tow the aircraft away from the runway, the plane was left at the spot where the incident happened, thereby blocking the runway and preventing other aircraft from passing through.
The area around the aircraft was cordoned off by security operatives, and there were unconfirmed reports that the aircraft had military hardware on board.
Some of the stranded passengers, who spoke to our reporter, said that they were confused over the situation as they were not sure of what to do.
NAMA confirms incident, apologises
Confirming the incident, General Manager, Public Affairs of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, Mr. Supo Atobatele, said the airport was temporarily closed to all arriving flights.
According to Mr. Atobatele, the agency had already issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) to inform all airlines about the incident.
"Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, had since issued a NOTAM (notice to air men) to that effect," he said.
He added that shortly after the incident, the management of the various aviation agencies, including Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA; NAMA; Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, and Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB, were on ground to assess the situation.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Minister of Aviation on Media, Mr. Joe Obi, said the incident did not cause any fatality as all the six passengers aboard the aircraft were safe and alive.
He, however, stressed that the incident was not an air crash and expressed the ministry's regrets for all inconveniences the incident must have caused air travellers and airport users across the country.
Obi said: "Concerted effort is being intensified to remove the obstacle and restore normalcy. The public will continue to be updated as progress is made towards restoring normal operations at the airport."
Among the passengers stranded yesterday was Senator Sola Adeyeye, who said he was on his way to Ibadan when he learnt about the incident at the airport.
He said he arrived at the airport at 9a.m. and had already obtained his boarding pass to check in for the flight on an Arik aircraft when it was suddenly announced that all flights had been cancelled.
Another stranded passenger, who identified himself as Clement Attah, a legal practitioner, said it was not enough to keep passengers stranded at the airport for the whole day.
He lamented that information concerning the incident was not disseminated, adding that if he knew about the situation, he would not have gone to the airport.
He said: "I am a Lagos-based lawyer. My Aero Contractors flight was supposed to take off at 2p.m., but I arrived here by 12 noon. I will wait till sometime later in the day before deciding on what to do next."
A South African, who identified himself as Garbor Petroczi, said his Ethiopian Airline international flight to Addis-Ababa was also supposed to take off at 2p.m., but was cancelled due to the incident.
Another passenger who spoke to Vanguard identified himself as Babayo Seidu. He said he had travelled from Kaduna to take a flight to Dubai, in United Arab Emirates, adding that he too was unsure of what to do over the situation.
He expressed regret that none of the airline's official was in the office to direct passengers on what to do.
Meanwhile, it took the combined efforts of aviation agencies, including FAAN, NAMA, AIPB, NIMET, NCAA, NCAT, Customs, security agencies and fire service personnel to evacuate the aircraft from the runway.