October 24, 2005

Nigeria recovers body parts from air crash site

By Tume Ahemba

LISSA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Recovery teams gathered human
body parts in plastic bags on Monday and prepared to excavate a
smoldering crater left by a Nigerian passenger plane that
crashed killing all 117 people on board.

Investigators say the Boeing 737 nosedived into a marsh
north of Lagos on Saturday night and most of the fuselage and
corpses were now buried beneath the red-hot impact zone 4
metres (13 feet) deep.

"The plane nosedived, the wings blew off, but the main body
of the plane is buried underground," said Ibrahim Farinloye, a
spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency.

"We are trying to remove the debris from the ground."

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

Aviation Minister Babalola Borishade said he had asked
construction companies to help dig out the crater, which was
still emitting a pungent smoke on Monday.

A Muslim cleric said a prayer at the crater's edge.

Fingers, part of a foot and other unidentified pieces of
human flesh were still visible on Monday amid mangled metal,
clothing, shoes and documents. Recovery workers collected body
parts in plastic bags.

Relatives picked over the wreckage for evidence of their
loved ones.

Sony Enemoh, whose brother George was on the passenger
list, said he found his brother's clothes at the site.

"I don't believe that this was an accident. Look at
people's clothes all over the place without bloodstains on
them. We picked the dress our brother was wearing when he
traveled and there is not a single drop of blood on it," he


Bellview Airlines flight 210 lost contact with the control
tower three minutes after take-off from Lagos en route to Abuja
in a heavy electrical storm, aviation officials said. A
presidency source said the pilot sent a distress signal before
losing contact.

The black box containing vital information from the plane's
flight deck has still not been recovered, the minister said,
contradicting a Punch newspaper report quoting police as saying
it was already found.

Borishade said two forensic experts were expected to come
from the United States to help identify the victims.

A government statement released late on Sunday said all 111
passengers and six crew were killed, and declared three days of
national mourning for the dead.

A U.S. military officer, a top official of the Economic
Community of West African States, a Nigerian presidential aide,
two Britons and a German were believed to be on board,
diplomats and airline officials 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.

The 24-year-old plane only recently received a clean bill
of health from inspectors, a Bellview official said.

Aviation analysts questioned why there was so much
confusion and delay in finding the crash site.

Officials had at first identified a location 150 km (100
miles) further north in Oyo state, deploying helicopters and
cars full of emergency workers only to find nothing there. It
took 15 hours for the authorities to find the downed aircraft.

Bellview Airlines is a privately owned Nigerian airline and
was popular with expatriates for its previously unblemished
safety record. The airline resumed flights to Abuja on Sunday.

As Nigeria mourned those who died in the crash, the country
also remembered President Olusegun Obasanjo's wife Stella, 59,
who died on Sunday after cosmetic surgery known as a "tummy
tuck" in Spain, local media reported.

(Additional reporting by Tom Ashby in Lagos)