October 23, 2005

Nigerian plane with 117 aboard destroyed in crash

By Tom Ashby

LAGOS (Reuters) - A Nigerian airliner with 117 people
aboard was totally destroyed in a crash shortly after take-off
from Lagos and there were no signs of survivors, the Nigerian
Red Cross said on Sunday.

The plane disintegrated on impact with swampy earth near
Lissa, about 30 kms (20 miles) north of Lagos, shortly after
leaving for the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Saturday night.

"The plane is still burning. I can't confirm if there are
any survivors, but there is no trace so far," Red Cross General
Secretary Abiodun Orebiyi told Reuters by telephone.

"The plane was totally destroyed. It was scattered

Dismembered, burned body parts and fuselage fragments were
scattered across a large area of disturbed earth, according to
images of the crash scene broadcast by the local AIT television
station. A check for 948,000 naira from the evangelical
Christian Deeper Life church was one of a number of personal
papers found among the wreckage.

A Red Cross official at the site said there was a 70 foot
(20 meter) crater where the main impact occurred.

The Boeing 737-200 was believed to be carrying some senior
Nigerian officials as well as a U.S. consular official and some
European passengers.

Bellview Airlines flight 210 left at 8:45 p.m. (1945 GMT)
and lost contact minutes later during a heavy electrical storm.
It was carrying 111 passengers and six crew, the Federal
Airport Authority said, updating an earlier figure of 110

The pilot made a distress call after take-off, indicating
the plane had a technical problem, a source at the presidency
told Reuters.


State radio reported that several high-ranking government
officials were on the plane, but there was some confusion over
the names and numbers of passengers.

Distraught relatives wailed and prayed at the Lagos airport
as a Bellview Airlines official read out a list of passengers.
The list may not be entirely accurate because tickets are often
transferred between people in Nigeria, the official said.

The route the airliner was taking is heavily traveled, with
dozens of flights each day between the port of Lagos -- one of
the world's biggest cities -- and Abuja in the heart of
Africa's most populous nation.

Earlier on Sunday, a spokesman for Oyo state, Adeola Oloko,
said the crash was 150 kms (100 miles) north of Lagos and about
half the passengers had survived. Emergency rescue helicopters
went to that site only to find nothing there.

Oloko later retracted that statement in a telephone
conversation with Reuters.

Bellview Airlines is a privately owned Nigerian airline and
is popular with expatriates.

In Seattle, Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier said the company
would work with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board
if the board was asked to help with any investigation in

She said the 737 was the "workhorse of the world commercial
jet fleet."

More than 140 people died in May 2002 when a Nigerian
airliner slammed into a poor suburb in the northern city of
Kano, killing people on board and on the ground. The aircraft
plowed into about 10 buildings shortly after take-off.

(Additional reporting by Tume Ahemba and Kingsley Igwe in
Lagos, and Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja)