Although the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) made public reports of the ADC Airlines plane crash in Abuja on October 29, 2006 as well as that of Bellview Airlines, but the report of the latter has become controversial as industry experts are picking holes in the investigation. Chinedu Eze reports
Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) literally opened up a wound last weekend with the release of the investigation report of the Bellview Airlines Limited flight BLV210 with registration number 5N-BFN, which crashed at Lisa Village in Ogun State on October 22, 2005, killing all the 117 persons on board.
AIB attributed the crash to the failure of the airline to ground the aircraft and carry out maintenance checks when technical faults were discovered and the failure of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to effectively carry out its oversight functions.
Although AIB said the cause of the accident was unknown, it nevertheless went ahead to apportion blames and also postulated on what might have caused the accident. It said that after extensive investigation it could not identify the conclusive evidence to explain the cause of the accident involving the ill-fated Bellview flight, but the investigation considered several factors that could explain the accident.
Causes of Air Disasters
These factors include “the PIC (pilot in command) training of the captain before taking command on the B737 aircraft, which was inadequate and the cumulative flight hours of the pilot in the days before the accident, which was indicative of excessive workload that could lead to fatigue. Furthermore, the investigation revealed that the airplane had technical defects.”
The report said the airplane should not have been dispatched for either the accident flight or earlier flights, adding that the absence of forensic evidence prevented the determination of the captain’s medical condition at the time of the accident.
“The missing flight recorders to reconstruct the flight also precluded the determination of his performance during the flight. Due to lack of evidence, the investigation could not determine the effect, if any, of the atmospheric disturbances on the airplane or the flight crew’s ability to maintain continued flight.”
It added that the operator (the airline) could not maintain the continuing airworthiness of its aircraft, in ensuring compliance of its flight and maintenance personnel with the regulatory requirements.
“The Civil Aviation Authority’s safety oversight of the operator’s procedures and operations was inadequate.”
AIB also raised the question about the medical condition of the pilot who had stopped flying for 12 years between 1992 and 2004 but travelled to the United States for training on the operated aircraft, B737-200.
“Before the captain joined Bellview Airlines in October, 2004, he had worked for Imani Aviation, Okada Air, Gas Air and Kabo Airlines. He was out of active flying for 12 years, between 1992 and 2004.
“In August, 2004, he went for B-737 pilot – in – command (PIC) training at Aero Services Aviation Centre, Florida, USA and obtained a Certificate of Completion on the August 28, 2004. He then joined Bellview Airlines on October 11, 2004 as a captain under training. He was released as a line captain to take command on the B-737 aircraft on November 9, 2004. His employment occurred nine months after he had suffered serious injuries in which he was a victim of a criminal attack. He had his last simulator training at United Flight Training Services, Denver, USA on the 28th of May, 2005.”
The crashed Bellview flight was reported to have left Lagos to Abuja at 2035 hours (6:35 pm local time), with two pilots, one licensed engineer, three flight attendants, and 111 passengers on board. All 117 persons were killed. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces and fire.
AIB said the accident occurred on the final leg of a one-day round trip from Abuja to Abidjan with intermediate stops at Lagos and Accra for both the outbound and inbound segments.
“The trip through the second stop at Accra (the fourth leg) was reported without incident. On the fifth leg, during the taxi for takeoff at Accra, the pilot and the engineer discussed the low-pressure reading of 650 psi in the brake accumulator system according to the pilot that flew the aircraft from Accra to Lagos. Normal accumulator brake pressure is 1000 psi.
“The captain continued the flight to the destination, LOS, without incident, where the discrepancy was logged. The engineer briefed the maintenance crew about the low-pressure reading. The crew consisted of two licensed Aircraft Engineers (LAEs) and five the outbound engineer for Flight 210. LAEs and engineer on riding coverage worked together to troubleshoot the brake system, which included verifying the pressure reading with the pressure gauge from another Boeing 737 (5N-BFM) in the fleet. It was determined that the source of the low pressure was due to a faulty brake accumulator. On checking the Minimum Equipment List (MEL), the maintenance engineers decided that the aircraft could be released for operation with the fault.”
The bureau said before Flight 210 departed, the captain discussed en-route weather with another pilot who had just completed a flight from Port Harcourt to Lagos. The other pilot informed the accident captain of a squall line in the vicinity of Benin. The accident captain indicated that he experienced the same weather condition on his previous flight from Abuja to Lagos.
“The chronology of the flight was determined from the transcript of the recorded radio communications between Air Traffic Control and Flight 210 and post-accident interviews of air traffic personnel.”
But what is confusing observers about this report is that there was another report made public by AIB and labeled “Final Report” with reference number 2/2009 (BLV 2005/10/22. Some of the facts in this report seemed to contradict that of the earlier report. On page four of that report, AIB observed that, “The investigation revealed that the airplane had mechanical anomalies, “but none that would have prevented continued flight.”
Also the report on the pilot of the ill-fated flight by AIB seemed to suggest that he was medically unfit to operate the aircraft but the medical report of the pilot, the late Lambert Immasuen, indicated that he was not only fit to fly the airplane as captain in command, but was 100 per cent medically fit.
In the medical certificate issued to the late pilot by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) with reference number NCAA/MEDCERT/1712/010102, the agency gave him medical certificate class one and the authorised examiner was Dr. J. B. Apantaku at the Ikeja Medical Centre, with date of examination, December 24, 2004. Another medical certificate on the year of the crash, the pilot was also given medical certificate class one and on the aeromedical assessment and licence, it was written “fit to fly.” The date of the medical examination was June 23, 2006, two months before the tragic crash.
Bellview management while reacting to the latest report of AIB argued that the pilot had logged in more hours that stated by the bureau and also remarked that the second report was not made available to both the owner of the aircraft and the manufacturer of the aircraft, as prescribed by international regulation.
Reacting to this final report, industry security expert, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), said what the bureau published on Bellview were the remote causes of the crash laced with speculations, not the actual cause, unless it published the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) of the flight before the accident.
“What AIB has published on Bellview is the remote causes laced with speculations not the actual cause in as much as it has failed to publish the transcript of the CVR and the ATCS (Air Traffic Controllers transcript) to aircraft communication transcript, the report remains very inaccurate and speculative.”
Ojikutu said secondly, “It is not true that the radar was shut down and was under maintenance (as claimed by the report) at the time of d accident.
“The truth is there was no radar controller on duty at the time because NAMA (the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency) was short of radar controllers. Thirdly, all the weather readings on d report are fluke and are inaccurate readings for lightings to have occurred at the location when direction and wind speeds suggest otherwise. AIB needs to do a better job than what it is dishing out to the public as a report,” Ojikutu said.
In a press statement Bellview Airlines Limited, which was signed by Terver-Uzer Luke, the head of the company’s corporate affairs, the airline said AIB circulated a draft final report before now to the relevant authorities which included “the state of design (country that manufactured the aircraft) and ourselves in 2009.
“This report has now been doctored four years thereafter without inviting us to comment on the fundamental alteration to the original report in accordance with ICAO Annex 13 ) International Civil Aviation Organisation section that carries out accident investigation) and best industry practice. There cannot be two final reports. This doctored report is geared to make Bellview the scapegoat with the ulterior motive of abandoning further investigation to find the true cause of the accident.”
Bellview also observed that AIB stated in the report that the true cause of the sad accident is still unknown and yet went ahead to make speculative allusions.
“Accident report should be factual and not speculative about the cause of the accident.”
The airline observed also that the captain of the flight 1053. 54 hours experience on aircraft type, Boeing B737-200, but said that it was erroneously stated on page eight of the AIB report. “The captain was trained in the United States under the US FAA (Federal Aviation administration) approved training programme and facility. The captain had valid first class medical certificate despite the allusion made by AIB.”
A seasoned captain who has operated in Nigeria’s airspace for several years and is a top official of one of the major Nigerian airlines gave THISDAY his personal views about the air crash.
He said: “That crash in my own opinion was caused by structural failure; the corrosion of the fuselage that forced the aircraft to go into uncontrolled dive to make that crater that was seen at the scene of the crash. Corrosion is very, very dangerous.”
On the suggestion that the captain’s health condition might have been impaired as noted by the AIB report, the pilot said this would not have caused the crash because there were two pilots in the cockpit.
“The two pilots cannot be incapacitated. It is highly unlikely that the two can be incapacitated because the aircraft was not too high into the sky to suggest that they lost oxygen and died. My view is that the tail section of the airplane, the horizontal stabiliser corroded and went off the airplane so the aircraft spiralled into descent and went into the ground. Part of the tail section was found somewhere else.”
There were also suggestions that the aircraft might have been bombed but no one is yet to provide concrete evidence on that and comparing the Lockerbie bombing to the Bellview crash would show a lot of differences as the former’s parts were scattered many miles away, while the later nosedived into the ground and formed a crater.
But as many experts in the industry disagree with the AIB report on the Bellview crash, concerned independent bodies would rarely use the report as point of reference and the suggestion by AIB that it would serve as guide to prevent future accidents may be a pipe dream.