Another Crash, Another Moment of Sorrow Tears and Blood

This article was initially written after the Dana air crash on June 3, 2012. Another crash occurred a few days ago. Apparently, nothing has changed, my message hasn’t changed either…

So there was a plane crash involving the corpse of the former governor of Ondo state, Chief Olusegun Agagu on October 3, 2013. 15 people died, five survived. We’ve started asking questions – again; like we always do whenever this happens. But questions shouldn’t only be asked after tragedies, they should be asked to prompt actions in order to forestall tragedies. Plane crashes in these climes usually expose our lack of maintenance culture on a wider scale. We tend to ‘manage’ things and live life on the edge – unnecessarily.

While at school, a roommate of mine got off a commercial motorcycle whose rider later told him to thank his stars for getting home safe. Why? Because the bike had no brakes! Trust me, when I say that this is not just a fictional anecdote but a clear depiction of how negligent we are when it comes to the sanctity of human life. You might not realise it until now but there probably would have been a time when you might have boarded a death trap of a bus without even knowing it.

Let’s face it, Nigerians as a whole do not really value lives. This is why a petrol tanker would be on the road when it shouldn’t; this is why our roads are bad; this is why we have an ill trained, ill educated and ill equipped police force – security officials by extension; this is why oil spills are left unchecked for days; this is why people go out to scoop fuel from burst pipelines and felled tankers, well aware of the attendant risks, some even go as far as making phone calls. I can go on and on but I’m sure you get the picture already.

This brings me back to the plane crash in Iju-Ishaga, a suburb of Lagos on the 3rd of June 2012. The plane owned by Dana airlines was supposedly not meant to be in the air and the management was notified but all complaints were waved aside. What do we have now, over 150 people dead is the answer. According to the Special Adviser, Technical to Minister of Aviation, Victor Oche Elias, the pilot declared ‘May Day’ 11 nautical miles to landing and when he declared emergency, he was given priority. But the plane crashed 4 nautical miles to landing. The main question is: should the plane be allowed to take off in the first place?

In a report by Vanguard Newspapers, there were indications that the Dana Air MC Donnell Douglas MD 83 which crashed in Lagos had a history of worrying defaults even before original owners, US-based Alaska Airlines sold it to Dana Airlines on February 17, 2009.

According to the information from Aviation Safety Network, an exclusive service of the Air safety Foundation, the ill-fated aircraft was acquired by Alaska Airline in November 13, 1990 with registration number N944AS. However, on November 4, 2002 the aircraft developed fault and had emergency diversion due to smoke and electrical smell in the cabin area, which engineers said was because light ballast had over heated.

Four years after, the aircraft’s health was also called to question when on August 20, 2006, it was again evacuated after landing at the Long Beach, CA due to a chaffed wire bundle that discharged and produced smoke in the cabin area again.

Apparently scared that the worst could happen, Alaska Airlines was said to have on August 21 parked the aircraft at Victorville until September 11 2008 when it carried out maintenance on it.
Eventually on February 2009 Alaska Airlines shifted the burden to Nigeria when it sold the ill-fated plane as 5N-RAM. The MD-83 was manufactured in 1983, announced go-ahead on January 31, 1983 and had first flight on December 17, 1984.

Now, the issue is not the fact that the plane is old (although you might want to wonder why a 28 year old plane should still be in business); there are old planes everywhere but why is our maintenance culture so bad? Planes are supposed to go for a scheduled C-test with authorities every once in a while. Unfortunately, it is only in Nigeria that scheduled tests are postponed, hence, if a C-test is supposed to take place on the 10th of June, it can be shifted and the plane will be allowed to fly on the 11th, even on the 20th! This is a worrying trend and people die at the expense of a few naira notes exchanging hands.

If a plane is declared unfit to be in the air, it should not be allowed to take off, period! Yet, we manage and manage till lives are lost. Tell me, how do you manage the irreplaceable loss of human lives?
The Minister of Aviation has pledged to conduct an investigation and we all have our fingers crossed. If the various allegations surrounding the Dana airline crash become established as fact, there should be just one outcome: the airline should not only be mandated to pay compensation, it should be banned.

Worse still is the sorry state of our government’s readiness for emergencies. Over two hours after the crash, rescue operations had not begun. The attitude of the ordinary Nigerian is also deplorable because the sheer number of people at the scene would have hampered the work of emergency agencies had they been at the scene. The Nigeria Police Force is also culpable as there was no visible perimeter around the crash site and people were allowed to roam as they liked at the risk of their personal safety.

This should not be the end; rather, it is an indication that there is still a lot of work to be done in the Nigerian aviation sector. Serious measures should be taken, routine maintenance should be mandatory and all regulations should be strictly adhered to. The person who cleared the plane to fly should be tried in court. Fines and bans should be applied whenever rules are flouted. Yes it would be bad for business, but business should never be conducted at the expense of human life.This is a wakeup call to Nigerians, aviation authorities, public officials, security agents, emergency management agencies and all other stake holders. We must begin to take lives seriously. The attitude of prioritising money in place of lives must be done away with. 156 dead people = thousands of mourners and it is not pretty. Entire families were killed, people lost spouses, fathers, mothers, sisters, in-laws, brothers, cousins, etc. IT MUST STOP!

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