Six years after the Sosoliso plane crash in Port Harcourt, killing over 100 passengers, most of them children, facts emerged yesterday that power failure at the Port Harcourt Airport was responsible for the accident.
Although the Federal Government is yet to make public the report of the panel that investigated the crash, the pioneer Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Mr. Angus Ifeanyi Ozoka, who headed the investigative panel, said at the point of landing, the pilot lost sight of the runway because there was no diesel to power the generator for the runway lights.
Ozoka, who spoke with reporters in Abuja on how to improve safety in the aviation industry against the backdrop of the June 3 plane crash involving Dana Air, said: “From the way we concluded our report after several months of investigations, the aircraft was coming to land, it didn’t have the runway in sight.
“It couldn’t see the runway as it was raining very heavily. The runway lights were not on because at the Port Harcourt Airport they were trying to save fuel.
“In the day time, they would switch off the generator, if there was no electricity and at night they would not switch on the generator except a pilot requested when he was approaching.
“So when the plane was at 8 nautical miles from the airport, it called and asked if it was raining, they told him no precipitation, they gave him the wind direction and speed, until the plane got to the decision altitude and went below it.”
He added that by the time the Sosoliso plane was approaching for landing, the wind direction suddenly changed dramatically, becoming heavier with associated wind shear activity; as such, the strength of the wind forced the plane to slam into the ground. “The plane crashed on the grass side and disintegrated into a total wreckage site of 1.2 kilometres.
“First, the plane touched the ground, then it bounced into an exposed concrete drainage where the number two engine and staircase were dislodged in that concrete and started disintegrating into pieces, with total land wreckage of 1.2km. In that situation, it was difficult to fight a fire over a spread of 1.2km,” he said.
Ozoka said government through Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should set strict conditions for all airline operators in the country to meet and those who cannot do so should be allowed to wind up.
According to him, government is not Father Christmas that operators should run to for bailouts, adding that anybody who wants to venture into the aviation industry should know that the industry is both capital and labour intensive.
He suggested that government’s 22-year-age limit for entry of aircraft into the country should be revisited as any aircraft above 20 years is presumed to be operating above the life cycle of that aircraft.
However, he said with good maintenance, some aircraft could still be kept airborne for over 25 years before they are retired. Meanwhile, relatives of the Dana Air plane crash are still having trouble claiming the bodies of their loved ones at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH).
Some of the relations of the victims who were seen yesterday wailing and agonising over their inability to claim the bodies, accused LASUTH officials of playing pranks.
The hospital officials are insisting that it will not release more bodies until all DNA tests have been concluded and results released to ensure that no family is given the wrong body.
A woman was seen at the mortuary wailing as she lamented the endless bottlenecks that had prevented her from collecting the body of her relative.