‘My Encounter with Crash Victims’

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Taiwo Ajayi

Chinedu Eze

She would never want to relive that gory experience when she saw dead bodies littered in the aircraft in different tragic pose. She felt painful pang in her stomach and came to the reality about the simple phenomenon of transition.

From the look of their rumpled clothes, now soaked in blood and waste, she could feel the sartorial essence of the highly placed persons that lost their lives. That was the Associated Aviation Flight 361, which went down on, takeoff at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on October 3, 2013, killing 15 persons.

Taiwo Ajayi, the first trained female accident investigator (now safety investigator) of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), recalled that accident: “I have participated in a couple of accidents and incidents. When I got in, we had senior colleagues who wanted us to get used to the job. I remember that there was an accident in Lagos and I was drafted to the site and it was a horrible scene. I couldn’t get over it for a week because there was total destruction,” Ajayi said.

Those gory images of death lingered in her mind for a long time and made her vow to make significant contributions in ensuring that Nigeria never recorded air crashes again. That was seven years ago and seven years of Ajayi’s stray into the man’s world of safety investigation. As the first female investigator she opened a vista of opportunities for other women who joined the beat afterwards and inspired them with the grit needed to do the job.

She told THISDAY how she was trained both in Nigeria and overseas as safety investigator and since then she has piled experience on the job. While preparing as safety investigator she also trained as traffic controller and later went to Cranfield, UK for Accident Investigation Course.

“In my course of study as Safety Investigator, I also trained as air traffic controller. That was very rigourous. You will have to do a lot of practical and reading because lives are involved. An air traffic controller can handle up to 1000 passengers because you are controlling an aircraft carrying about 250 passengers. If there is a breakdown in separation, that would cause a huge problem.

“That is why we undergo series of rigourous training where even your emotions have to be kept in check because sometimes, some of my colleagues get overwhelmed during the stimulator training and just start crying when they are told that they have caused the crash of 200 passengers. But you have to be mentally strong and focused.

“After going through that training, you have to learn how to fly a plane which is also rigourous because if you have phobia for flying, then you would have serious problems. It is after that, you will be sent to a facility for on the job training to put what you have learned into practice,” Ajayi said.

She described it as privilege working in male dominated aviation sector and thanked Accident Investigation Bureau for giving her the opportunity to actualise a career dream.

“It’s a privilege to work in this situation because it gives you a high sense of responsibility and you don’t take things for granted. You try to follow information that you are given and have a cordial relationship with people around you, which makes the work go on well,” Ajayi said.

She said that within the last three years, AIB has developed high manpower capacity that it has the highest number of safety investigators in West Africa and has served as consultant and safety investigators for some African countries, especially in the sub-region.

“Right now, we have 34 safety investigators on ground and we have some people on standby who have been recruited because there is always a succession plan in management. We believe that once everybody is well trained for the job, we would be able to handle any situation, not like before when we had less manpower. AIB is playing a massive role in the West Africa as we have made our services available to countries outside Nigeria. The number of accident investigators we have can cover the whole of Africa and they are well trained. In West Africa, not all of them have independent safety investigators like Nigeria, so they look up to us and we are available at any time to render help. We are trying to go multi modal which is a very big opportunity waiting for us to also engage more people,” Ajayi said.

And as the pioneer first Safety Investigator, Ajayi has led the way for other women in that area of aviation, which is a huge responsibility and at the same time a huge opportunity.