From: Frank Warren <frank-warren.nul> Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2004 09:58:42 -0800 Fwd Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2004 07:35:11 -0500 Subject: Many Unanswered Questions About Nigerian Plane Source: AllAfrica.Com http://allafrica.com/stories/200402110201.html The Many Unanswered Questions About Goshen Beach Plane Crash February 10, 2004 Posted to the web February 11, 2004 Nigerians were Friday, January 30, 2004, jolted by reports of another plane crash in Lagos, four years after the EAS crash that killed former Sports Minister, Ishaya Mark Aku, and close to a hundred others. The incident which had since generated so much controversy in the nation's aviation circles was reported to have happened at Goshen Beach at about 3:00pm that fateful day. News of the crash of the aircraft suspected to be a 20-seat capacity Beach 1900 as described by eyewitnesses, first filtered out of the radio wave, setting officials of parastatals in the aviation ministry and aviation correspondents on their toes. Earlier reports about the crash were sketchy, and efforts to get details from air traffic controllers, who should know, and local operators at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, yielded no result as at 7:00pm that evening. However, officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN); Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA); Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Fire Service at the airport responded promptly to the crash site with their ambulance vehicles for search and rescue of the aircraft and its occupants. Officials of South Africa-based Critical Rescue International and Nigerian Red Cross were also on hand to assist in the operation. But for some minutes of aerial hovering over the purported crash spot by military helicopter, not much of search and rescue operation was conducted on the day. The reason for this is simply lack of search and rescue equipment. Therefore, everyone who thronged the crash site waited patiently for some four hours to see if the Beach waters could throw up any evidence either in terms of aircraft parts or personal effects of those on board. But while the speculation game as to aircraft type and identity of operator continued, experts in the industry wondered what could have been responsible for such a crash, as the day's weather was seen as one of the best for flight operation. Because of the axis the crash purportedly happened, air traffic controllers, pilots and other aviation experts were quick to conclude that the ill-fated aircraft was on its way to Lagos from the Niger Delta Zone, preferably Warri. Suspicion of operator was then narrowed down only to companies operating the Beach 1900 in the country, while contacts were being made to Osubi Airstrip in Warri, Eket and Escravos by officials of NAMA to ascertain if any aircraft took off from any of those bases that had not arrived at its destination. This became necessary because air traffic controllers (ATC) had confirmed that they had no dossiers of the aircraft, departure and arrival points in their records. That Friday ended with no meaningful search and rescue operation. The environmental sanitation exercise of the following day did not dampen the anxiety of aviation parastatal officials and other members of the public who, Vanguard learnt, got to the purported crash site before the exercise started at 7:00am. It is necessary to state that much of what transpired this day was more of keeping vigil at the Beach front for clues than actual search and rescue. The only sign of activity in the Beach waters this Saturday morning was the effort of a private search and rescue outfit, Critical Response International (CRI), which boat hovered around suspected crash spot in search of clues about the crash. This went on for hours, as officials of aviation parastatals at the Beach stood helpless, relying on information brought to the shore by the 5-man search team. At about 11:30am, the team, having almost given up on further search, came with the information that it had found traces of aviation oil, which they tried ceaselessly to track the exact spot of the crash, but to no avail. Their frustration became noticeable when at about 1:30pm, the officials mainly from FAAN, the NCAA and NAMA had consultations on how to reach the aviation minister in Abuja to liaise with the Naval High Command to authorise movement of their equipment to the crash site, especially with insistence from construction workers at Goshen Beach Estate and CRI that an aircraft came down into the beach. Before the close of the day, the aviation ministry in Abuja had issued a statement, saying no plane crashed into Goshen Beach. The statement signed by the chief press secretary to the minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okwuogu, stated inter alia: "Information of the reported aircraft was said to have been triggered by an SOS message received from Econet message received from Econet Crisis Management Centre, indicating that an aircraft crashed around Goshen Estate, near Maroko. "Immediately, all the relevant agencies: The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Accident Investigation Prevention Bureau (AIPB) of the ministry were on the spot of the reported scene to ascertain the truth of the matter before announcing same to the public. "National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Rescue Co- ordination Centre was immediately activated and series of checks with an Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit at both Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA) and all other airports in the South Eastern sector of the country did not reveal any missing aircraft." The statement added that checks with Accra, Cotonou, Douala and Malabo also did not reveal any information as to any missing aircraft, even as it stated that the terminal approach radar, communication and navigational facilities at the Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA) were all serviceable and in use at the material time. Suffice to say that the Saturday ended without any meaningful search and rescue operation because of lack of equipment. It is necessary to state that the government closed further search and rescue operation that Saturday. From Sunday, the Goshen Beach became the isolated terrain that it is. When Vanguard called there Sunday, the beach bore traces of inactivity, as no one was found on ground. Stakeholders in the aviation ministry were a bit surprised that the ministry's position that there was no plane crash was hasty, especially as twenty-four hours were not enough to conduct thorough search and rescue operation to foreclose any further operation as indicated by the minister, Mallam Isa Yuguda, at a press conference called in Lagos to put the lid on further search and rescue operation. Observers contend that even if no aircraft actually crashed into the beach, the federal government needed to convince Nigerians that nothing of such happened, and that the only way to do this was to carry out thorough search and rescue. In this line of thought is safety watchdog, the Nigerian Aviation Safety Initiative (NASI) which, in a statement, warned government against foreclosing and treating as a non-issue the reported sighting of the crash of an unidentified flying object (UFO) at the beach. " We view as premature any attempt to put the lid on the search at this time, especially against the categorical statement of Jenin Bowen, a member of the search team from Critical Response International who insists after preliminary search that there is an aircraft in the waters. Indeed, unless the sighting can be rationally explained or the state of mind of the eyewitnesses called, NASI believes that the government has a responsibility in ensuring that the mystery surrounding the crashed UFO is unraveled. The fact that no aircraft is missing even makes it more demanding for government to resolve the mystery, certainly it should be viewed from the angle of national security," the group said in the statement signed by Capt. Jerry Agbeyegbe, its Executive Secretary and founder. As posed by NASI and other aviation watchers, where did the aircraft depart from? Who is the operator and who were the occupants? What was its mission? Why was there no flight plan filed as required by aviation regulations? These are questions begging for answers from the nation's aviation authorities and security agencies, as what transpired on the fateful Friday, though controversial, bothers more on national security. However, Mallam Yuguda, while wishing away the crash of any aircraft, had told newsmen at the briefing that what was mistaken for an aircraft by the construction workers who claimed to have seen the plane come down were the fragments of illegal oil barges blown to pieces by men of the Nigerian Navy same day within the same environment. But watchers of the aviation sector argued that even if that was what transpired, the ministry ought to have worked stridently to retrieved such fragments from the ocean bed to convince the people that there was no crash of any sort. They also picked holes in the ministry's argument that contact with countries within the West African sub-region did not lose any aircraft days after the purported crash, saying the aircraft could have been one on illegal mission, stressing that the owners could never have owned up that their plane was missing. It was learnt that because of the epileptic nature of the radar at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in terms of performance, there had been cases of aircraft straying illegally into the nation's airspace without being picked by the radar. It would seem that aviation parastatal officials who claimed to have conducted search and rescue operation, told the minister only what they wanted him to know, especially considering the haste with which he dismissed the crash story as a hoax. The unease some of the officials felt at every probing question asked the minister and efforts made to check reporters from asking more than five questions at that briefing was a pointer to this direction. Consequently, so many questions were left unanswered about the purported crash story. Even before coming to Lagos, Yuguda was far away in Abuja giving instructions for issuance of a statement denouncing the story, while nothing in terms of actual search and rescue operation was going on. Up till the time of briefing the press on the matter last Wednesday, the minister was yet to visit the site of the purported plane crash. He dashed out of Lagos in the same express manner he dashed in. However, fielding questions from journalists at the briefing, Mallam Yuguda, who had within twenty-four hours after the purported crash authorised a statement dismissing the crash, left room for possibilities of the presence of an aircraft under the sea bed when he said the federal government had not foreclosed investigation into the matter. On claims that traces of aviation oil was found in the Beach waters, close to the point the aircraft purportedly plunged, the minister did not explain what steps relevant agencies in the ministry had taken to ascertain the genuineness of that claim, neither was he categorical about the fact that the oil reportedly found by CRI search team was from the fragments of the illegal oil barge blown by the Navy near the site of the crash. "For the sake of convincing Nigerians that there was no crash, the minister ought to ensure that the fragment of the illegal barge he claimed to have been mistaken for an aircraft was brought out of the sea bed at the spot the plane reportedly crashed, which I understand eyewitnesses have been able to identify," observed an aviation expert who sought anonymity. The displeasure of the senate over the manner search and rescue was carried out by the relevant government agencies further raised questions about the exercise, as that currently remains the lacuna as to whether there was a crash of an air plane or not. It also further called to question Nigeria's emergency response capabilities. Such capabilities were lacking in the ADC crash of 1996 in Lagos; EAS crash of 2001 in Kano, and have again been displayed in the case of the Goshen Beach crash incident, which yet remains a mystery because of shoddy search and rescue operation.
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