Before the Ejigbo plane crash of September 26, 1992, in which we lost what was described as a generation of articulate graduate military officers who were groomed for professional leadership positions in the Nigerian Army, unfortunately there had been so many other plane crashes in Nigeria before then. The first plane crash recorded was on April 10, 1948 in Kano, involving Air France Douglas DC-4 aircraft that crashed and killed the only person on board.
On July 27th, 1951 a British -170 aircraft operated by West African Airways Corporation, crashed though no life was lost. In February, 1955 a WAAC plane from Enugu crashed in Calabar and 13 people died. On June 4, 1956 a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) four-engine Canadair C-4 Argonaut airliner G-ALHE crashed into a tree on departure from Kano Airport, three of the seven crew members and 29 of the 38 passengers were killed, and two crew and two passengers sustained serious injuries. On November 20, 1969, Nigeria Airways Flight 825, a Vickers VC-10 aircraft, from London enroute Lagos with intermediate stops in Rome and Kano crashed while approaching Lagos, killing all 87 people, 76 passengers and 11 crew, on board. On January 1973, 176 people died after a Boeing 707 chartered by Nigeria Airways to fly pilgrims back from Jeddah to Lagos crashed in Kano airport, two crew members and 23 occupants were rescued alive. Again on July 1991, 261 people died after a McDonnell-Douglas DC-8 aircraft flying hajj pilgrims to Sokoto on behalf of Nigeria Airways, crashed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Then came the September 26, 1992 plane crash, the aircraft a Hercules C-130 had graduates of 19, 20 and 21 Class of the Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna. The President Babaginda’s dream to professionalize and replace all senior military officers that he intended should be retired then.
Though historical records have it that the aircraft was very rugged, but it is important to note that for this particular plane, two of its four starters were bad from January until August 1992, they were only replaced in early September of that year to enable the plane airlift some relief materials to Liberia. On September 22, 1992, the plane was detailed to airlift the official cars of President Babangida to Lagos for the inspection of Naval vessels. The following day while at the Abuja International Airport, flight engineers spent over three hours to repair the propellers of the aircraft. After that it was also discovered that the aircraft had ascending problems.
On the return of the aircraft to Lagos, the Aircraft Maintainers Department (ACMD) personnel spent two days putting it in order and on September 25, the plane was handed over to the Air Transport Group for operations.
The aircraft’s initial task on that faithful day of the crash; September 26, 1992, was to lift the ‘President IBB Presidential Bodyguard’ to Abuja in the morning. At the airport, only 13 of the members were around for the journey. It was argued that it will amount to wastage of resources for the aircraft of a capacity of 110 people to carry only 13 passengers to Abuja. It was resolved then, that the aircraft be used to lift a deceased Air Force Warrant Officer, his family members and sympathizers to Ilorin in Kwara State. The aircraft left for Kwara State but as the aircraft attempted to land at Ilorin, it was reported that the booth swung open on its impact with the tarmac. After landing, the flight engineers went to work immediately to rectify the problem. From Ilorin, the aircraft departed for Lagos via Kainji and Port Harcourt, and got to Lagos at about 4:15 p.m as against when it was being expected at 11 a.m. as at the time of its arrival, some of the military personnel that were to board it to Kaduna had searched for alternative means, some traveled with Okada airline others requested for rebate tickets from the management of HARCO airline. HARCO Airline had just resumed normal flight about 2 weeks then, after they were banned by the Federal Civil Aviation Authority on April 7th. The remaining officers preferred that they travel as a team, so they stayed together and waited patiently for the return of the flight.
When the aircraft eventually arrived Lagos at about 4.15pm, the inflight pilot from Port Harcourt was alleged to have warned the pilot for the Kaduna flight that the aircraft was in a terrible condition, the aircraft was taken for maintenance checkup and was satisfied air-worthy for the flight. Checked by who you may wish to ask, probably the Federal Civil Aviation Authority whose duties it was.
The Aircraft had 110 passengers’ capacity without luggage, that is if there are complete 110 passengers, there should be no luggage, but it was alleged that the aircraft carried about 167 passengers with their luggage. They were 15 persons in the cockpit that was meant for 11, including the pilot and his co-pilot. Some of the passengers in that aircraft were alleged to be standing while others ‘lapped’ themselves.
The plane was reported to have left at about 5:27 p.m and under two minutes while the aircraft was at about 3,100-3,500 feet above sea level, one out of the four engines, in fact the one engine regarded as the very best, which ironically was the one recently repaired got packed up and immediately it was reported that the pilot sent in a distress message to the control tower “We are in trouble” The pilot made an impressive move to return to the airport but it was too late and by the time he sighted the Okota/OkeAfa canal, he headed for it, so that he can land with its belle on the water, but he missed it just by 100-150 meters and nose-dived into the swampy area of the lagoon, this was in his effort to at least reduce the causality rate.
The aircraft crashed at about 5. 30 pm, people resident around the Ejigbo area claimed the saw the plane coming very low, some also claimed the hey heard the sound of the crash but no one was able to reach the crash site that evening. At about 6.30pm, a helicopter was sighted hovering around Ejigbo and environ, obviously trying to locate the site of the crash. I can state in good authority that the inability of the helicopter to locate the crash site that night was because there was no explosion as it was rumored, if there was an explosion, the fire from it would have been a signal for easy identification, by the helicopter occupants.
The aircraft had 112 senior Military/Naval/Air Force Officers, 2 non-commissioned officers, 6 members of the directing staff of the Command and Staff College Jaji, 1 press photographer, 2 civilians from the Ministry of Defence, 5 Ghanaians, 1 Tanzanian, 1 Ugandan, among others.
The next day, hundreds of civilians and military rescuers were at the scene of the crash. They scampered to the top of the ridge separating the canal from the swamp to get out some of the victims. The crash site was said to be littered with bags, shoes, dresses, notebooks, drugs from a first aid kits. The aircraft crashed head long into the swamp, with one of the wings collapsed to the fuselage, which means a crane was needed to lift the wing off the fuselage but there was none available.
Rescuers applied Vaseline ointment on the exposed parts of the body before venturing into the swamp. In all it took three days, because of inadequate facilities to get all the bodies out of the aircraft. The bodies of the victims were loaded into an army trucks. The following day after the crash at about 4:40pm on Saturday, September 27.SaniAbacha, Chief of Defence Staff and Minister of Defence.
It was on Monday, September 28, that a hired private hack-saw was used to break into the aircraft, then on Tuesday, Julius Berger, a construction company, was contracted to help in lifting the wing off the fuselage where most of the dead were buried.
On September 29, President Ibrahim Babangida, visited the scene of the accident and announced the cancellation of all activities planned to mark Nigeria’s 32nd Independence anniversary as a mark of honour for the aircraft victim.
In my efforts to get a balance story, I spoke to some people who directly or indirectly were part of the event of that day, for example, I spoke to Squadron Leader Michael OladipupoAdefemi, the man whose name was listed among those that died in the plane crash but he is very much alive. “I was with the Air Force then and my family were in Kano, when I got to the airport that morning and was told that the Hercules was going to Kaduna with students of Jaji returning to their base, I decided to join them, while we waited for the plane to get ready for takeoff, I told my friend, Lt. Commander A.O.G. Aborowa to watch over my luggage, so I can see my mother whom I had not seen for a long time. So I took a taxi from the airport and instead of going home to see my mum, I went to see my brother and I gave him a message and gave him N200 to give my mum and a promise that I will visit her before the year ends. The same taxi that took me to see my brother, was waiting and drove me back to the airport, as we drove in I saw the plane taxing, I was worried that I had missed the flight and I was just wandering about my bag and how I will get to Kano, just then an officer called out and handed over my bag to me, he said my friend Aborowa gave him the bag to give me that they have left for Kaduna. I was still at the airport, about 10 minutes later when the airport tower announced that the plane that just left for Kaduna crashed, I was so shocked and confused” On the allegation that the crash must have been planned, he said: “No, nothing like that, it was an accident and we all knew it was an accident.”
Another person I spoke with is Mr. Tayo Adelaja who is a journalist, he said: “The plane crash that occurred in 1992 was a tragedy, I can’t forget in a hurry. I was in a party on that fateful day, Saturday, September 26, 1992 when the earth shook as if there was a tremor. Fear gripped all of us at the party as there has been talk about the coming of the world to an end shortly before that day. The earth shaking incident occurred late in the evening when the party was in full swing. I and other friends left the party for our various home shortly after. As we are on our way, we saw helicopter hovering above and heading towards where the incident happened. It was the following day news spread like wild fire about the unfortunate crash of the students of the Senior Course 15 of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji and others about few streets away from the party venue. I went to the scene of the accident the following day, I met a crowd making efforts to rescue the victims, FRSC and some policemen. I couldn’t bear the gory sight of the charred remain bodies of the victims of the aircraft brought out from the scene of the accident, so I left. Later, I learnt that the crash like other plane crashes in the country was due to our nonchalant and careless attitude to serious issue as the plane Hercules C-130 had faults a day before which was rectified but may not be totally fixed. Again, in my opinion the aircraft may have been overloaded which may have cause the tragedy.”
For those who went to town that the President then had a hand in the killing, I have repeatedly asked myself why will Babangida kill the officers, he trained? Today I am throwing the question out that we should ask those that have spread the rumor, why will IBB do such a thing. Take note that the man IBB had enough power to sack all of the officers from the Army if he did not like them. He also had enough power to retire all of them even at their age. He had the power to dispatch them to neighboring countries to go and fight wars. He had the power not to appoint them into any political positions. He had enough power to even sit tight on their promotions.
A closer look at the photos of the plane after the crash debunks the rumour that the plane was blown midair, it was never true, it crash landed as one can see in the photos
After the 1992 plane crash, there have been several other crashes for example on November 1996, 144 people died after a Boeing 727 operated by ADC airline en route from Port Harcourt to Lagos crashed in Ejirin, near Lagos, killing all its occupants. On May 2002, 72 people died after a BAC One-Eleven jet operated EAS, on a flight from Jos to Lagos via Kano, crashed shortly after takeoff from the Kano airport. On June 3, 2002 Dana Air Flight 992, a McDonnell Dougles MD-83 aircraft making a schedule commercial passenger flight from Abuja to Lagos crashed into a furniture work and printing press building in Iju-Ishaga in Lagos with 153 passengers and ten more on ground dead. On October 22, 2005 Bellview Airlines Flight 210, a Boeing 737-200 crashed killing all 117 people on board. It crashed after taking off from Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos enroute Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja. On December 2005, 108 people, mostly students of Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja, died after a McDonnell-Douglas operated by Sossoliso Airlines crashed while landing at the Port Harcourt airport. Two occupants were rescued alive. On October 29, 2006, an Aviation Development Company (ADC) Airline twin-engine MD-83 registered in Nigeria as 5N-RAM. Flight53, crashed with 104 passenger on board. Then on June 2012, 153 persons, 146 passengers and 7 crew died after a Dana plane McDonnell Douglas MD-83 crashed.
May God continue to protect us and may the soul of all departed continue to rest in peace.
Dr. Raphael James is the Publisher of The National Biographer magazine, a researcher and author of over 20 books, he runs a the largest photo museum on Nigerian history and a private library in Lagos