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Jet carrying schoolchildren crashes in Nigeria

Sunday, December 11, 2005

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria -- A Nigerian jetliner filled with schoolchildren going home for Christmas crashed Saturday while landing during a lightning storm in this delta oil port. At least 103 people were killed, officials said.

A spokesman for President Olusegun Obasanjo called the disaster "a national tragedy."

Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Sam Adurogboye said early reports indicated that seven people survived the crash of the Sosoliso Airlines' McDonnell Douglas DC-9. Flight 1145 left the capital, Abuja.

"They were breathing and were taken to the hospital. They are responding to treatment," he said.

He did not say if the survivors were passengers or crew members.

In Lagos, Sosoliso spokesman Simbo Olorufemi would only confirm that the crash had occurred, saying, "Most of the passengers might have lost their lives."

An airport worker said burned bodies lay across the landing area after the plane broke into pieces.

Frantic family members at the airport said the plane was carrying 75 pupils heading home from Abuja for Christmas. The pupils, students at the Loyola Jesuit School, were between 12 and 16 years old.

Adurogboye said there was stormy weather around the airport at the time of the 2:08 p.m. crash.

and witnesses reported seeing lightning flashes as the plane approached the runway in this southern port city.

Nigerian-owned Sosoliso Airlines was established in 1994. It began scheduled flights as a domestic airline in July 2000 and now flies to six Nigerian cities, according to its Web site.

Information Minister Frank Nweke said Sosoliso had a reputation for being efficient and reliable.

"To my knowledge they haven't had any incidents since they started their operation," Nweke said. "So this has come as a surprise, a very big surprise."

He added: "It's a very terrible situation and very sad." Obasanjo was "devastated," he said.

Nigerian airports have come under criticism in recent months following a string of near-misses and an incident in which an Air France passenger jet crashed into a herd of cows on the runway at Port Harcourt.

International airlines also briefly suspended flights at Lagos' international airport because of holes in the runway.

In October, an Abuja-bound Boeing 737-200 crashed after taking off from the airport at Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city, killing 117 people on board the Bellview Airlines flight.

The cause of that crash is unknown, but U.S. investigators sent to help with the investigation ruled out terrorism, an official at Nigeria's Aviation Ministry said last month.

After the October crash, Obasanjo ordered stricter safety and maintenance procedures for all Nigerian aircraft, directing the aviation ministry to "plug loopholes" to ensure passenger safety.

In May 2002, a domestic EAS Airlines jet plowed into a heavily populated neighborhood after takeoff at the airport outside the northern city of Kano, killing 154 people in the plane and on the ground.

Asked whether this latest crash raised serious questions about air safety in Nigeria, Fani-Kayode said: "Of course, people would be concerned, in view of the circumstances."


On the Net:

Sosoliso Airlines: http://www.sosolisoairline.com


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