A service to mark 25 years since an air crash in Algeria in which five persons, including two Heartland FC players were killed held Thursday in Owerri, Imo State.
The crash in stormy weather at the Aéroport de Tamanrasset, Aguenar in southern Algeria, on September 18, 1994, happened as Heartland (formerly known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale) players and officials were returning from an African Champions Cup (now Champions League) tie in Tunisia.
Midfielder Eghomwanre Aimiemwosa, goalkeeper Uche Ikeogu, two pilots and a crew member were killed while another 21 people were badly injured.
Crash survivors, former and current players attended the memorial service in Owerri
Former Nigerian captain Christian Chukwu was one of the 30 people who survived the crash.
Chukwu was the club’s technical director working alongside coach Alphonsus Dike, who also survived and went on to coach Enyimba and Nigeria’s under-17 team.
Other survivors included former National Sports Commission Director Steve Olarinoye, Bola Oyeyode of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and Amanze Uchegbulam a former NFF first vice president. Two sports journalists, Banji Ola and Olumide Akande were also amongst those who escaped with minor injuries.
“I think it was a divine intervention because I sat in the middle of the plane when we took off,” Oyeyode recalled in an interview with BBC Sport.
“Later I switched seats and moved forward where I slept off. I think that’s what saved me because the plane divided right in the middle after the crash.”
The five-time Nigerian champions recounted the event that led up to the on social media.
“Then Nigerian champions, Iwuanyanwu Nationale were returning from Tunisia where they had lost 3-0 to Esperance in the first leg of the quarter finals of the continental club showpiece,” the club wrote,
“Defeated and deflated, the 35 players, officials and journalists were obviously in low spirit. Beyond the defeat and the thought of the herculean task ahead, the contingent had to contend with a three-hour delay at the Tunis Airport.
“When the chartered BAC 1-11 of the Oriental Airlines, owned by the club proprietor, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, eventually took off, it had to contend with early morning fog of the Sahara desert region.
“So bad was the situation that the plane had to make an emergency landing at Agenat Airport, Tamanrasset in Algerian Southern border with Niger Republic.
“In doing so, it crashed into a pole, then a lorry and finally into a fire station building. The aircraft had circled in the airspace for almost three hours. After a mighty explosion, the aircraft came to a halt.
“From the base of the badly mangled aircraft came 30 passengers alive. A Miracle!”
Regarded as one of the most successful clubs in the West African nation, Heartland have five Nigerian league titles including four straight victories from 1987 to 1990 and three FA Cup titles.
They were losing finalists of the African Champions League in 1988 and 2009.