October 23, 2005

All 117 likely killed in Nigerian air crash

By Tume Ahemba

LISSA, Nigeria (Reuters) - A Nigerian airliner with 117
people aboard crashed and disintegrated in flames shortly after
take-off from Lagos and there was no sign of survivors,
officials and the Nigerian Red Cross said on Sunday.

Dismembered and burned body parts, fuselage fragments and
engine parts were strewn over an area the size of a football
field near the village of Lissa, about 30 km (20 miles) north
of Lagos.

"The aircraft has crashed and it is a total loss. We can't
even see a whole human body," a senior police official said at
the scene.

The Bellview Airlines plane, which left Lagos on Saturday
night on a scheduled flight to the capital Abuja, left a
smoking 70 foot (20 meter) crater in the marshy earth, uprooted
trees and blew the roofs off nearby houses.

"I can't confirm if there are any survivors, but there is
no trace so far," Red Cross General Secretary Abiodun Orebiyi
told Reuters after visiting the scene. "The plane was totally
destroyed. It was scattered everywhere."

A wig, human intestines, clothes, foam seats and a hand
were visible wedged in the sodden earth. A check for 948,000
naira from the evangelical Deeper Life church was one of a
number of personal papers found in the smoldering wreckage.

A U.S. official confirmed that a U.S. military officer was
aboard the aircraft. Diplomats and airline officials said it
was also believed to be carrying a top official of the Economic
Community of West African States, a Nigerian presidential aide,
two Britons and a German.

"It would be a miracle if anyone survived," one man at the
crash site said.

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.


Distraught relatives wailed and prayed at 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.

State television said the nation would hold three days of
mourning for the dead.

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 but found nothing there.

Oloko later retracted the statement in a telephone call
with Reuters. Aviation analysts said the fact the aircraft was
at least 20 years old may have been a factor in the crash, but
asked why there was so much confusion and delay in finding the
crash site.

Bellview Airlines is a privately owned Nigerian airline and
is popular with expatriates. It recently began international
flights to India and London.

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 Tom Ashby and Kingsley Igwe in
Lagos, and Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja)