Since the fatal incident of the Dana Air crash that led to the death of over 200 people in Lagos last week, the tragic event has continued to elicit reactions from different stakeholders in the country and outside, especially on issue of families travelling together. LEADERSHIP SUNDAY OLUSEGUN OLUFEMI, CHIKA OKEKE, CHIBUNMA UKWU, KEHINDE AJOBIEWE, BLESSING UKEMENA, MICHAEL OCHE, Abuja; ACHOR ABIMAJE, Jos, and FLORENCE UDOH, Lagos write.
It all started with their hopes and aspiration to achieve something meaningful in life. Some had good prospects, while the others were planning on enhancing what they had been labouring for in a long while. Still, others had the hope of landing in Lagos for a lifetime relaxation. They all had one thing or the other to do in Lagos, until midair their plans and hopes were cut short by a distress announcement from the plane’s cockpit to the airport control tower.
That probably is a sum up of the mindset of the victims of the Dana Air flight 9J-922 with registration number 5N-RAM which incidentally rammed into hapless and innocent people in Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos State on the Sunday of June 3, 2012 at a reported time of 3:45pm.
In obvious panic, they must have wished they were not in the plane, which was 11 nautical miles from the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos; the final destination of the ill-fated plane. The flight according to Nigeria Travel Online website had 109 men, 26 women, five children and six infants on board. It also had one Dana Air flight engineer, two pilots and four cabin crew members.
Reminiscing over the incident, it does not take long before you start nagging your self-consciousness on which option is best left for you to take when making a safe and fruitful travel plan within or outside the country. Should you go as a family on a trip? Or should the family members be segmented into groups?
The thought of travelling by air is not exactly as appealing as it used to be, some would say. Every person that died on the ill-fated Dana Air plane belonged to a family and so over a 100 families, not counting relations, are now in mourning state. There was even a case in which a whole family of 10 died in the air crash as reported on national newspapers within the week of the incident.
The roads are not safe either as there have been incidents where a complete family, that is father, mother and the children, was involved in an accident, and they were all wiped out. This is a generation loss, which spells doom for the family.
Like the story of the Koledoye family, it is nothing short of a miracle that everyone survived. On the Saturday before the crash, the Koledoyes, who are resident in Masaka, Nassarawa State, decided to give a surprise visit to one of their older female children living in Zaria, Kaduna State. Being a surprise, they did not inform Deborah, their daughter, of their visit.
Tope, one of the sons in the family, had recently acquired a new Toyota Sienna minivan, so the family decided to go with the minivan to see Deborah. After prayers, the family set off for the journey.
They are a large family. In the trip were Mr. and Mrs. Koledoye, their five sons, two daughters and two daughters-in-law, one of who was pregnant. They stopped at a fuelling station in Suleja to buy fuel and they continued on their journey. After a few miles, the car’s engine compartment suddenly burst into flames.
Fortunately, they were not on high speed, so Tope, who was driving the car, immediately applied the brake and brought the car to a halt. The door had automatically locked when the car caught fire, so they managed to break the door windows and squeezed themselves out of the car. It took awhile before they were all able to get out and thus only sustained a few bruises from escaping through the window.
Their luggage, food items and the car itself were completely burnt. It took awhile before they could get help, being that the incident occurred in an isolated express road. When help came, they were able to find their way to town. Every one of them was thoroughly shaken by the incident and all trips suspended for a long time.
The Koledoyes had survived the incident, but there are lots of other families that were not so lucky, thus it begs the question: Should families stop travelling together?
While speaking with Dr. Humphrey Ikechukwu, a medical practitioner at the Federal Staff Hospital, Abuja, he said that although there were no records of whole families that were involved in an accident at the Federal Staff Hospital, but he was aware that such things happen.
In his opinion, families should no longer travel together so that in the event that something should happen, there would still be a family member to carry on the generation. “The way things are going now, I think families should travel in separate groups, or at least not travel in the same airplane or vehicle. The father can go ahead and wait for the rest of the family at the airport,” he suggested. Humphery says that he still believes that air is the safest way to fly, but that families should go for airlines that are known for good safety standards.
Dr. Philip Osaibghovo, the Head of Department, Anaesthetics, at the State House Clinic, also stated that the State House Clinic had no record of families involved in an accident, but that he knew such things do happen. Having lost a medical colleague in the Dana Air crash, Dr. Osaibghovo expressed his disappointment in the Nigerian airspace system. “Everything in this country is monetised. We tend to compromise standards for money. What is the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) doing on the road?
They should be on the highway checking those travelling vehicles if they are road-worthy. Do you know that there are some vehicles that travel at night without headlights? It is pathetic what is happening in this country. If every person does his or her job properly, then we should not experience this scale of disaster in this county.
What happened was a preventable accident,” he lamented, adding that whether a whole family or a single individual dies in an accident is not the point, but what is the safety standard put in place to prevent unnecessary waste of innocent lives? “There is nothing wrong with whole families travelling together, but there should be safety measures taken to ensure the safety of travellers, and defaulters should be brought to book,” he insisted.
The Head, Public Relations, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Mr. Emmanuel Okeh, acknowledged the fear which most families have over travelling together. However, he urged them to disabuse their minds on such ideas as travelling together remains one of the factors which shows the uniqueness of a family.
He called on Nigerians to be obedient to traffic rules in their daily usage of the road.
“A family can only be complete when members of the family are together. Now, because of the ugly incidence that happened, we cannot tell families to stop travelling as one, either in a plane or in a vehicle. The issue is that whatever that has been destined will always come to pass, whether they travel together or not.
On the other way round, if the means is there, a family can travel differently in different ways. But anything that has to do with ugly incidences as in plane crashes is only in the hands of God to prevent. He knows when to create and when to take away,” he assured.
Narrating his experience in rescuing accident victims, Okeh revealed that the man-made accidents could be prevented and urged all road-users to always ensure safety while on the road.
“It is always a sad and unfortunate situation rescuing those involved in accident scenes. It is true that we cannot stop the natural disasters, but the technical problems associated with vehicles, speed, drunkenness while driving, tiredness or making calls while on the steering, all these are issues that can be prevented. But a situation where little things, like leaving your electrical appliances on, could result to fire outbreak.
“So, checkmating all these things can prevent accidents. When you go to a rescue scene, those ones that are natural, there is nothing we can do about it. Thus, when one goes to a rescue scene, the sights are indescribable, but it’s a call to duty and one has to do it,”
Speaking further, Okeh advised that ‘’it is highly wrong for a road driver to take alcohol in the morning before going to take over the steering. Or when passengers realise that a driver is overloading a vehicle or in a bad state, the wise thing for them to do is to get off from the vehicle. But most times, we see them claiming to be in hurry and oftentimes, end up in danger.
So, I urge us to take cautions in whatever we do, let us obey the driving and traffic rules. Let us obey the laws of the government concerning driving so as to ensure safety.”
Speaking in the same vein, an operator of a travel and tours agency located in Wuse 2, Abuja, who preferred anonymity, called on the Aviation Ministry to forcefully mandate airline operators in the country to embark on comprehensive checks and maintenance of their aircraft before taking off to any destination, both in Nigeria and abroad.
On whether it is safe for a family to board the same aircraft, he added: “It is not only in aircraft that we record large number of casualties, but the same thing also applies to the road transport system. It’s only God that protects men from the unknown, but nevertheless, it is totally absurd for one family to board an aircraft or even the same car when travelling by road.”
Another travel agency operator, Mr. Martins Dominic, said: “I am not in support of one family travelling in the same aircraft, because we have had cases of such mishap on road transportation. But the fact remains that it is only God that protects live.”
On merger among airlines for better services, he said, “When the banking industry could not meet up with the target set by the Central Bank of Nigeria, the weak ones merged with the stronger ones. So, I’m advising that the same should be applicable to airlines that may not have the expertise to manage their airlines alone.”
In its own reaction, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the nation’s emergency watchdog, urged Nigerians to be more prayerful and security conscious.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Director General of the agency, Mr. Yushau Shuaib, in an exclusive interview said their duty at NEMA is to rescue victims of disasters, and when they do, they don’t discriminate in terms of whether whole family or single family, man or woman, old or young is involved.
According to him: “Ours is just to ensure that we respond timely, safely, and be able to assist the victims. And that is exactly what happened in the last incidence. The only thing I can confirm to you is the fact that we were able to recover 150 bodies and that number is inclusive of some that were killed on the ground.
“So, what we are saying here in essence is that probably there may be more than that figure of the dead. Because definitely at this stage, we have found some of the dead, some of them are unrecognisable, and some of them were burnt completely to ashes while some body parts were also picked from the scene of the accident.”
Giving his own opinion on whether it is advisable for families to travel together, he added that nobody expected what had happened, and “when God’s time comes, no matter how prepared you are or what you do, it will still happen, especially, in an environment where people believe more in miracles and destiny.”
He however advised families to be more security conscious, saying, “The most important thing is that we should activate our level of security consciousness, which is we have to be conscious of our environment, and the security situation. The FRSC has always advised people against night journey, and the same thing about travelling in an environment that is risky.”
Shuaib also admonished Nigerians to learn to use their sense in detecting what is right and what is not, adding that the Nigerian airspace has being one of the safest in a long time, and that the country has skilled and experienced pilots. He went further to say that on a daily basis, more than 100 flights are recorded, which means a single airline can fly to and from particular location in Nigeria more than 10 times in a day.
“So, just think about it; until this incident happened, nobody questioned whether families travel in group or not. Security problems happen on a daily basis, we have always seen crises here and there. So the question is; does it mean that we can’t live in this environment?
There are universities, companies, and schools in this environment; will you now say that because of the fear of insecurity, somebody should stay at home without working? It’s not possible. Look at those that were just sleeping in their houses and the plane went and crashed on them. So, we have to be security conscious and prayerful to God to protect and save our nation,” he stated.
The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) Public Education Officer, Mr. Jonas Agwu, in his own contribution, said the FRSC has been proactive in its campaign to keep the roads safe. He said this is why the commission has embarked on enlightenment campaigns at various bus stations, motor parks and also organises workshops for transporters nationwide.
“We are realigning our operation nationwide to keep the road safe,” he enlightened, adding that human factor posed the greatest challenges to road accidents. “You cannot overrule the human factor. Our investigations have shown that nine out of 10 cases of accidents are caused by human factor. About 80 per cent of accidents the world over is also caused by human factor.”
“The vehicle on its own cannot cause accidents. The road, no matter how bad it is, cannot cause an accident on its own. The only thing that can cause an accident is human. The problem is people refusing to observe speed limits. Some people have turned the highways to race tracks. We have been teaching people driving techniques,” he said.
Speaking on the idea that family members should not travel in the same car, he said “Of course, it is a safety measure and that there is nothing wrong with such decision.”
He added that in case something happened in a journey, the whole family would not be affected, but added that that is not the issue. Safety must come first and drivers must adhere to speed limits. “In whichever way you chose to travel, what we keep emphasising is ensuring your vehicle is in good condition and drive in accordance to approved speed limits and traffic regulations.”
“There is nothing wrong with travelling in separate cars as a family. These are all part of safety measures, but what happens when the driver in the car your wife is travelling in decides to start running above the speed limit? What we are saying is that it all goes down to adhering to speed limit and traffic regulations.”
He added that as part of measures for improved response time to crash victims, the FRSC has acquired Toll-Free Emergency Numbers, hoping that such emergency numbers would be erected along roads and highways across the country.
The brothers of the late Shehu Sa’ad, who died in the Dana Air crash, also recounted their loss in Jos to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY.
Babangida Sa’ad is the elder brother of the deceased and the most senior son of Alhaji Inuwa Sa’ad. He lamented that “Shehu happens to be my junior brother. I personally brought him up and enrolled him in secondary school, precisely in the early 70’s along with some other brothers.”
According to him, the family had lost another brother, 11 days before Shehu. Shehu, he informed, was married with 10 children, three grand children and died at the age of 55. Babangida also disclosed that the late Shehu finished from Barewa Collage and then proceeded to the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, describing his late brother as a very humble person who touched the lives of the less-privileged in the society and people who came across him.
Babangida further said Shehu, a retire banker, was a director in the Mainstream Bank before his death. Shehu was going for a meeting in Lagos when the incident occur, Babangida added, saying that it was after Shehu’s dead that so many people came to the family house to tell them how “my late brother facilitated jobs for them in so many places,” adding that Shehu’s neighbours and colleagues also came to tell them so many good things about him. In his words, “We will greatly miss him. We lost him, but God has destined that he will die that way.”
But for Isa Sa’ad, the immediate junior brother of the deceased, the family will miss Shehu greatly. He added that the late Shehu was the breadwinner and strong pillar of the family, stressing that “we accept his death in good faith and as an act of God. We have no option than to accept it in good faith.”
Dana Air: The Pilot And The Plane
The pilot of the ill-fated plane, 55-year-old Captain Peter Waxton, an American, was on his last flight and last day in Nigeria before the disaster occurred, according to friends and colleagues.
A former pilot for Miramar-based Spirit Airlines, Waxton resumed work with Dana Air in March 2012, a friend of the late pilot who did not want to be named said at the premises of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) informed. The friend, also a staff of Dana Air, disclosed that Waxton was eager to return to the United States to spend time with Lisa, his fiancée, when off-duty.
Waxton had worked at Spirit from 1997 to 2009. “He was the best MD-80 captain I’ve ever seen,” the source added. He added that Waxton must have done “everything he could to save that aircraft,” lamented that “his efforts were heroic.”
Three other friends of the pilot, flight attendants or other workers close to him described him as a “genuine nice guy” who was quick with a smile or a joke. “I’m still in shock,” said a friend, his voice breaking. “God, I’m going to miss him.”
There are indications that the Dana Air MC Donnell Douglas MD 83 which crashed in Lagos had an engine problem which the owners had been battling with. The plane was sold to Dana Air by U.S.-based Alaska Airlines on February 17, 2009.
According to information from Aviation Safety Network web site, an exclusive service of the Air Safety Foundation, the ill-fated aircraft was acquired by Alaska Airline in November 13, 1990, with registration number N944AS.
However, on November 4, 2002, it was alleged that the aircraft developed fault and had emergency diversion due to smoke and electrical smell in the cabin area.
It was further alleged that four years after, the aircraft’s health was also called to question when on August 20, 2006, it was again evacuated after landing at the Long Beach, in the U.S. due to a chaffed wire bundle that discharged and produced smoke in the cabin area.
Apparently scared that the worst could happen, Alaska Airlines was said to have, on August 21, parked the aircraft at Victorville until September 11, 2008, when it carried out maintenance on it. Eventually, on February 2009, Alaska Airlines shifted the burden to Nigeria when it sold the ill-fated plane as 5N-RAM.
On May 11, 2012, the same aircraft billed for Lagos/Abuja route with more than half capacity passengers, was allegedly returned to the airport and had to make an emergency landing at the MMA in Lagos. Reports said passengers on board had to hurriedly disembark and sought alternative means of travelling. No casualty, then.
On May 25, 2012, the same plane was on a Lagos/Calabar route but also made another return to Lagos after the crew reported engine faults. There was also no casualty.
Thus when on that fateful Sunday, it crashed, analysts averred that the plane was disaster waiting to happen.