The Wig & Skirt By Funke Aboyade. Email, email@example.com
The Dana Air Flight 992 crash on Sunday June 3 cast a pall on everything. I doubt there’s anyone who did not feel terribly bad about the crash. It was particularly distressing to come to know that many passengers actually survived the impact of the crash only to die from smoke inhalation and fire after the plane eventually exploded, when help failed to reach them on time. Distressing also, were the reports which subsequently emerged about how (not) airworthy the aircraft actually was and allegations that the airline’s management dismissed, or perhaps never even seriously considered, the risk of continuing to ferry precious human lives with it.
Naturally, questions have arisen from this terrible tragedy. Was the aircraft indeed not fit to fly, as alleged by a whistleblower and indeed by many other passengers who’d flown in that aircraft before it then went on to crash? If so, who took the decision to keep it in the air? What was the basis of that decision? How did the state of the aircraft escape the attention of the regulatory body, the NCAA (Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority)? Was someone negligent? Is there criminal, as well as civil, liability on the part of Dana, NCAA and any other individual or body?
Why was no help forthcoming for the passengers who’d survived the initial impact? Indeed, accounts of them dialing their loved ones in panic after the crash and screaming for help inside the plane were quite unbearable. Reports of the position in which some were found, for instance clutching their babies to their chest, were heartrending. Imagining their agony was sheer torture.
Why did it take so long (accounts range from half an hour to two and a half hours) for emergency services to arrive the scene? Especially as the pilot had earlier declared an emergency and radioed in a Mayday? In the interim some residents in the neighbourhood had tried to contain the fire which had started in the cockpit but was yet to spread with pure water sachets! Pure water? My God! Does it get any worse?
Why did the fire service which eventually arrived very quickly run out of water and firefighting foam? Why do we not have emergency air ambulances to transfer injury victims safely and securely to the nearest hospitals? Why were emergency and rescue services unable to secure the crash site, allowing thousands of onlookers to besiege the place thereby severely restricting access by their personnel? Why were the Police, usually only very adept at harassing innocent citizens, suddenly rendered impotent and unable to hold back those gawking officious bystanders?
Why was the manifest released by the airline so inaccurate and sloppy containing names, for instance, of those who’d purchased tickets but did not fly?
Questions arise too from government’s panel set up last week to audit all airlines operating in Nigeria. What exactly is NCAA there for? What about the Directorate of Airworthiness Standards? And the Accident Investigation Bureau? The Flight Standards Group? Were they compromised? Has government lost confidence in their leadership? If so, why are they still in office? Why have they not been sanctioned? If not, why are they not allowed to get on with their statutory duties? Are they institutionally weak? If so why has it taken yet another plane crash for government to wake up to this fact? Another tragedy, another panel. We love to set up committees and throw panels at our problems. And we love to ignore their recommendations. Until the next disaster. We live from disaster to disaster. Why this fire brigade approach to important life and death issues? Medicine after death. Closing the stable doors after the horses have bolted.
If criminal liability is subsequently proven against DANA, NCAA or other individuals or bodies then this government must very strongly consider prosecuting them for manslaughter and criminal negligence. 153 souls on board were lost, as well at least 6 others on the ground (exact figures of those have been difficult to ascertain). It’s time to send a strong signal to those who recklessly endanger innocent lives entrusted to their care. It’s time also to sanction those who do not take their statutory duties seriously thereby causing needless deaths.
Families and survivors of the deceased may also want to consider a class action against the airline. Happily, class actions are now gaining traction in our legal system.
The answers to some of the questions posed above may well be pointers to systemic corruption. That and bureaucratic, as well as corporate, inefficiency and ineptitude.
Sadly, the real cost of corruption is fast being painted in graphic relief. 159 souls and counting were lost on a single day alone on account of this.
I met one of the victims, Alhaji Ibrahim Damcida, some years ago at a garden party in Surulere, Lagos. Turned out he read my column - a disclosure which humbled me. He would call me from time to time to ask how I was doing and chide me gently for not calling. He always asked when I would come and visit him at his Awolowo Road, Ikoyi address and I would always promise to come. I never made it there. Regretfully, I will not now have that opportunity. It went up in flames, along with the aircraft conveying him to Lagos that Sunday afternoon.
On Friday, June 1, 2012 I boarded Dana flight 996 from Abuja to Lagos. It was scheduled to depart 19.08 but after a two hour delay we eventually took off and arrived Lagos at 21.50. Oddly, we parked in the middle of nowhere, no airport terminal in sight. It took another 20 minutes before we could disembark and were bused to MM2. Reading another passenger’s account in The Sun newspaper of Wednesday June 6 of that flight, it dawned on me that perhaps there’d been a problem and we, thankfully, had not been aware of it. The thought was chilling, moreso when I confirmed that the Dana Air flight which crashed less than 40 hours after was the same aircraft.
I travel a lot domestically. That it wasn’t me is solely by the grace of God. That it was others and not me does not mean they were less deserving of that grace.
We cannot question the grace of God. We can and must however, interrogate the lapses which led to the crash, to the death of the 153 precious souls on board when no immediate help came their way and to the death of the 6 souls who were in their homes minding their business when their lives were so rudely terminated. We must not stop at that; we must insist on the fullest sanctions permissible by the law on any person found culpable. Everyone on that aircraft, as well as those on the ground, had a life, a family, a story. Entire families perished. Others suddenly lost their breadwinners, their sons, their daughters, their parents, uncles and aunts. Friendships were terminated, colleagues abruptly departed, young lives brimming with hope extinguished. All died an agonising death. We must not shirk in our duty, we must not rest, we must not tire, until the truth behind the crash is unearthed and appropriate sanctions are meted out. It would be very easy to move on – as those who have something to hide might hope. We must ensure that that hope is in futility. We must not let government rest or forget until it does its duty and follows through to a logical conclusion.
To those who grieve, the rest of the country grieves with you. To those whose pains are re-enacted having lost loved ones in previous crashes - and realise that nothing has changed - one can only imagine the depth of your frustration and anguish.
Our cover this week is on the Dana Air flight 992 crash of Sunday, June 3, 2012…