The captain of the Dana Flight 0992, Mr. Peter Waxtan, reported dual engine failure shortly before Sunday’s crash, Aviation Minister Stella Oduah told journalists at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the recovered Flight Data Recorder (FDR), also known as the “Black Box”, will be flown to the United States of America Thursday for decoding, Oduah said, confirming THISDAY’s report published Wednesday.
President Goodluck Jonathan has threatened “severe sanctions” against those found culpable in the mishap which claimed at least 160 lives.
According to Oduah, "From the record of communication that we have, the captain of the aircraft called the traffic control in Lagos declaring a mayday and reported dual engine failure.
"It was shortly after the captain's distress call that the aircraft could no longer be seen in the radar and communication was lost."
She said the aircraft was tracked on the radar from the time it reported that it was having problems till it crashed.
The Federal Government has set up panels to review the safety of all airlines in the country.
President Jonathan, at a special Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting to end the three-day mourning for the victims, vowed to visit severe sanctions on anyone or corporate body found culpable after investigations have been concluded.
At the session, nearly all members of the cabinet wore black and took turns to express their feelings on the crash, with the Ministers of Transport, Senator Idris Umar; Tourism and Culture, Edem Duke; and Minister of State for Defence, Olusola Obada, narrating how they would have been on the flight.
While Duke was supposed to have been on the flight but was booked on another, it was supposed to have taken Obada back to Abuja had it not crashed. Umar flew on the aircraft to Abuja before it crashed on its return trip to Lagos.
“I assure all Nigerians and the international community that the investigations which I have ordered will be very thorough. Let me warn that where clear dereliction of duty is established, firm action will be taken. This administration stands ready to take whatever action may become necessary after the investigation to prevent the recurrence of air mishaps,” Jonathan said.
The president said his administration had done a lot to bring the Nigerian aviation sector to global standard and regretted that even though Nigeria was reputed as having one of the safest airspaces, the incident still occurred.
Jonathan appealed to Nigerians to avoid being judgmental and speculative on the cause of the crash as he was willing to do all within his possible best to protect Nigerians and foreigners.
He directed the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Trade and Investment, Mr. Olusegun Aganga; Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi; and Chief Economic Adviser to the President, Prof. Nwanze Okidigbe, to look into the tariffs and other taxes in the aviation sector and recommend policy review that would benefit the sector.
Oduah gave the name of the Technical and Administrative Review Panel members as Group Captain John Obakpolor (rtd) as Chairman, while other members are Captain Austin Omame, Captain Dele Sasegbon, Dr. O.B. Aliu, Mr. F .C. Onyeyiri, Captain Mfon Udom, Captain Muhtar Usman, Dr. Tony Anuforom and Captain A. Mshelia.
They are to “immediately perform a comprehensive assessment of all the domestic scheduled airlines. They will ensure that management culture as well as effectiveness of NCAA's oversight of airline maintainable practice is being maintained and enhanced. The panel is mandated to make bold recommendations to the Federal Republic of Nigeria on actions that will need to be taken to improve the overall safety net of aviation sector.
“The panel will complete its assignment within six weeks. Their mandate includes also assessing the financial health line of airlines that are operating within Nigeria, because this has direct and indirect co-relation with the ability of the airlines to function effectively and maintain its obligation”.
She said that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) would be strengthened to monitor domestic airlines regularly and assured Nigerians that since the powers of the panel transcend a probe of the Dana crash, they were looking beyond the crash.
Oduah said she watched the Dana flight take off in Abuja and by the time the aircraft she boarded approached Lagos, she saw the smoke below and thought a building was on fire.
She did not know that the aircraft had crashed.
In an interview with THISDAY Wednesday, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Dana Airlines, Mr. Jacky Hathiramani, said the aircraft did not have any technical challenge before the mishap.
He told THISDAY that he based his assessment on the fact that the airplane had successfully undergone an A-check a few days earlier.
The Dana CEO denied reports that the crashed airplane had a history of electrical faults from the days it was operated by Alaska Airlines in the 1990s, and said: "That's not right. I don't have such record. Besides, I don't know the source of the story, but all I can say is that the airplane did not have such history."
He also said, mindful of the safety demands on every airline operator, the aircraft successfully went through a C-check late last year, adding that "it was due for another round of C-check in November this year.”
"Our safety record is clean. We have highly trained experts and we are mindful of the fact that the industry we are operating in is highly regulated. "The same aircraft did 150 hours of flight in the month of May, this year," he said.
He disagreed with those attributing the accident to the age of the airplane - 22 years at the last check - and said: "It was not old age. Because age has nothing to do with it. Some aircraft operated by other airlines in the country are older and they are still flying. In fact, the MD-83 has 900 in its fleet world-wide; more than one-half of this are flying in the United States alone. It has one of the best safety records in the world."
He expressed sadness over the air mishap, saying his company's preoccupation was how to pay what he called quality attention to the families of the victims.
He said as the chief executive of the airlines, he was more committed to cushioning the effect of the crash on the community and relatives of the victims.