Retired general recalls panic, prayer aboard ill-fated jetliner

KANO, Nigeria -- Seconds after takeoff, the airliner lurched and heaved as passengers screamed and prayed aloud, retired Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Ikegwuoha said Monday, relating from his hospital bed how he took off his seat belt and coiled his body into a ball.

Ikegwuoha doesn't know exactly what happened next, or how he became one of four survivors of Saturday's jet crash, which killed 154 people and spread destruction in a crowded neighborhood of this northern Nigerian city.

As the plane teetered agonizingly toward earth, the sturdily built 60-year-old war veteran recalled springing up in his first-class aisle seat before sitting down again just as suddenly.

"I coiled myself instinctively," he said slowly, pausing slightly amid labored breathing.

"Everyone was screaming and praying to God. I can only believe it was God's will that saved me."

Medical officials at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital said the army general was semiconscious when he arrived Saturday evening, with serious burns on his face, hands and legs. Most of his clothes had been stripped off by the impact or the explosion that followed.

Seriously burned

Doctors said Monday that his condition was serious but stable. Bandages and compresses covered his injuries.

Among those who died in the crash was Ikegwuoha's longtime family friend, Julie Husseini, the wife of a former Cabinet minister. She and her 22-year-old son Daniel, who also died, were sitting just across the aisle from the retired general.

Many other victims were unidentifiable, their bodies so badly mangled or burned that authorities buried 56 on Monday -- including a woman and a baby wrapped together in a piece of charred cloth -- in two pit graves dug in a field near the airport.