Nigeria mourns after Lagos plane crash kills 153

LAGOS — Nigeria began three days of mourning on Monday after a plane carrying 153 people plunged into a residential area of Nigeria's largest city of Lagos on Sunday, with all those aboard presumed dead.

The plane, which was flying to Lagos from the capital Abuja, crashed near the airport, damaging buildings and setting off an inferno in the poor and densely populated neighborhood.

Several people were believed to have been killed on the ground, an emergency official said, while 10 burned bodies were removed from a damaged building in the area, which was littered with plane debris including a broken wing.

President Goodluck Jonathan declared three days of national mourning and pledged a full investigation into Sunday afternoon's disaster involving a plane operated by domestic carrier Dana Air.

The cause of the crash of the Boeing MD83 was unclear, but the emergency official as well as an aviation official said the cockpit recorder had been located and handed over to police.

Skies were cloudy at the time of the crash, but there had been no rain.

Nigeria has a spotty aviation record, although Dana had been considered to be a relatively safe and reasonably efficient domestic airline since it began operating in 2008.

Officials confirmed that no survivors from the plane had been found by Sunday evening, but said search operations were continuing.

"We presume they are dead," Tunji Oketunbi, spokesman for the country's Accident Investigations Bureau, told AFP, adding that definitive casualty figures would only emerge after the search and rescue operation was completed.

A spokesman for the airline said the plane was carrying 147 passengers and six crew members.

China said six of its nationals were on the plane.

Thick smoke rose from the area and flames could be seen shooting from a two-story building. The plane crashed in a plot containing what residents described as a church, a printing shop and the two-story residential building.

"I was just coming out of church around 3:30 pm when I heard a loud noise," said one witness, Tunji Dawodu.

"I thought it was an explosion," he said. "Then there was a huge flame from the building where the plane has crashed into."

Thousands of onlookers had partially blocked access to the crash site, prompting soldiers to try to clear out the area, using rubber whips and their fists. One even threw a wooden plank at those crowded around.

Seeking to evade the troops' aggression, people took off in several directions, trampling their neighbors as they tried to avoid being crushed themselves.

The area plunged into all-out pandemonium when a helicopter tried to land amid the crowd, kicking up clouds of ash and light debris that again scattered people in various directions.

Some residents said it appeared that the plane had nosedived into the neighborhood while others described it as swaying back and forth before crashing.

"It was waving, waving, waving," Yusuf Babatunde, 26, said at the scene. "The pilot was struggling to control it. It crashed — it just started burning."

Another witness, 23-year-old Gift Onibo, said: "I just saw the plane — it was going down and down and down."

Wreckage could be seen in the neighborhood as the inferno burned. Residents reported seeing bodies being taken out of the area as rescue workers rushed in and the helicopter landed.

"It was a Dana flight out of Abuja to Lagos with about 153 people on board," Nigeria's head of civil aviation Harold Demuren told AFP. "I don't believe there are any survivors."

An official with the National Emergency Management Agency said the plane had crashed into two buildings, a church and the two-story residential structure.

At least three people had been transported for treatment with relatively minor wounds, he said, in addition to the some 10 burned bodies pulled from a badly damaged building.

The president's office said in a statement that Jonathan had "directed that the Nigerian flag be flown at half-mast for the three days of national mourning.

"Meanwhile, the president has ordered the fullest possible investigation into the crash," it added.

Aviation Minister Stella Adaeze Oduah said in a statement that the flight had declared an emergency with the control tower at 3:43 pm when it was 11 nautical miles from the airport. It disappeared from the radar screen a minute later.

Lagos, the largest city in Africa's most populous nation, is home to an estimated 15 million people.

The accident followed another plane crash Saturday in the capital of nearby Ghana, when a cargo plane overshot a runway and hit a passenger bus, killing at least 10 people.

The Allied Air cargo plane had departed from Lagos and was to land in Accra.

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