Nigeria began three days of mourning yesterday after a plane carrying 153 people plunged into a residential area of the nation’s largest city, Lagos, on Sunday, with all those aboard presumed dead.
The plane, which was flying to Lagos from the capital, Abuja, crashed near the airport, damaging buildings and setting off an inferno in the poor and densely populated neighborhood.
Two cranes arrived early yesterday to clear debris and allow rescue workers better access to the area where the Dana Air plane crashed.
“Sixty-two bodies recovered so far,” a rescue official said on condition of anonymity.
A few thousand onlookers gathered at the site, where a church, a two-story residential building and a printing shop were badly damaged. The number of those killed on the ground remained unclear. Ten burnt bodies were removed from a damaged building.
Smoke was still rising from the scene and water trucks were also brought in to douse the smoldering wreckage.
“We were lucky. We just finished our church service when this thing happened,” one resident at the scene yesterday said.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared three days of national mourning and pledged a full investigation into the disaster.
The president’s office said in a statement that Jonathan had “directed that the Nigerian flag be flown at half-mast for the three days of national mourning.
“Meanwhile, the president has ordered the fullest possible investigation into the crash,” it added.
Chaos broke out after the crash, with rescue workers facing large crowds and aggressive soldiers while trying to access smoldering wreckage in the hunt for survivors.
The cause of the crash of the Boeing MD83 was unclear, but the emergency official as well as an aviation official said the cockpit recorder had been located and handed over to police.
Skies were cloudy at the time of the crash, but there had been no rain.
Nigeria has a spotty aviation record, although Dana had been considered to be a relatively safe and reasonably efficient domestic airline since it began operating in 2008.
Officials confirmed that no survivors from the plane had been found by Sunday evening, but said search operations were continuing.
“We presume they are dead,” said Tunji Oketunbi, spokesman for the country’s Accident Investigations Bureau, adding that definitive casualty figures would only emerge after the search and rescue operation was completed.
A spokesman for the airline said the plane was carrying 147 passengers and six crew.
China said six of its nationals were on the plane.
Thick smoke rose from the area and flames could be seen shooting from a two-story building. The plane crashed in a plot containing what residents described as a church, a printing shop and the two-story residential building.
“I was just coming out of church around 3:30pm when I heard a loud noise,” said one witness, Tunji Dawodu.
“I thought it was an explosion,” he said. “Then there was a huge flame from the building where the plane has crashed into.”
Thousands of onlookers had partially blocked access to the crash site, prompting soldiers to try to clear out the area, using rubber whips and their fists. One even threw a wooden plank at those crowded around.
Seeking to evade the troops’ aggression, people took off in several directions, trampling their neighbors as they tried to avoid being crushed themselves.