President Goodluck Jonathan monday led mourners nationwide in remembrance of the first anniversary of the 153 passengers and 10 others on the ground who perished when a Dana airplane crashed into a Lagos suburb on June 3, last year.
Jonathan, who was speaking at the unveiling of a cenotaph in memory of the victims at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, pledged that Nigeria’s air space would henceforth be made a lot safer for all intending air travellers and operators of the aviation industry.
The president’s pledge was made just as the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babtunde Fashola, unveiled another cenotaph at the crash site in Iju-Ishaga, Lagos, in memory of those who lost their lives in the tragedy.
The Dana plane, Flight 992, which was flying to Lagos from Abuja, crashed into the densely populated Iju-Ishaga neighbourhood a year ago, a few minutes to landing, killing all 153 passengers on board as well as some ten persons on the ground.
Speaking on the incident, the president reiterated his administration’s commitment to safety in the aviation industry, stressing, “Today, I want to say to all my country men and women and the entire world that we will make our airspace safe.
“In this regard, I hereby reiterate our determination to do everything humanly possible to prevent the occurrence of these unfortunate tragedies.”
The unveiling of the cenotaph, he said, was a symbol of respect for all those who died in the crash, stating, “They will never be forgotten. It is also a perpetual reminder and demonstration of our resolve to do everything humanly possible to ensure that similar tragedies never occur again in this country.
“As we have unveiled this cenotaph today, this is to symbolise the turning of a new page and the closure of a painful old chapter in our history.”
The president added that in the aftermath of the Dana Air crash, government immediately put in place additional safety measures to enhance the overall safety of the aviation sector.
“You will recall that the Minister of Aviation with my approval appointed the Technical and Administrative Review Panel comprising highly qualified and experienced industry professionals to review the operational, technical and managerial practices that are in existence in all Nigerian airlines who operate domestically,” he stated.
The assignment of the panel, he explained, was different from that of the statutory investigation of the accident carried out by the Accident Investigation Prevention Bureau (AIPB).
According to him, the panel was established to uncover any contributory and systemic lapses that may have existed in the industry so that they could be speedily addressed to enhance the overall safety of the Nigerian aviation industry.
Jonathan said all the recommendations by the panel had been implemented by the Ministry of Aviation, adding that the National Aviation Policy was also reviewed to further strengthen the safety and operations of the various categories of aviation businesses.
The new policy, he stated, was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) two weeks ago.
While acknowledging that government had learnt new lessons from recent air disasters, it would not spare any effort in enhancing total air safety in the aviation industry.
He assured Nigerians that the 2012 tragic Dana Air crash would never occur again.
“Let me reiterate our resolve to maintain maximum vigilance to safety regulations of our aviation industry. Vigilance must be our watchword; we must remain vigilant in our safety oversight responsibilities. We must never let up, we all have a duty to look to the future and build a viable, prosperous, safe and secure aviation industry that each and every one of us feels confident to patronise,” he said.
He added: “Precisely on this day one year ago, the tragic crash of Dana Flight 992 occurred in the suburb of Agege, Lagos State, minutes before it would have landed at the Murtala Mohammed Airport.”
Expressing his grief over the incident, he said: “It was a monumental tragedy for the nation. I recall my deep anguish shared by the entire country when I was informed of the accident.
“A day later, I visited the scene to see for myself, in the company of the Senate Committee Chairman, Senator Hope Uzodinma and his counterpart from the House of Representatives, Hon. Nkiru Onyejeocha.”
As the president spoke in Abuja, the painful memories came flooding back monday at the crash site when families and friends of the crash victims as well as top government officials from the federal and Lagos State governments gathered to mark the sad tragedy.
The unveiled cenotaph built in memory of the dead in Lagos, had the names of each of the victims engraved on it.
Scores of family members of the plane crash victims both Nigerians and foreigners, joined Fashola and members of the State Executive Council with heavy hearts to unveil the cenotaph and laid wreaths at the crash site, located on Popoola/Olaniyi Street, where the plane plunged a year ago.
Different accounts of the victims’ family members revealed the depth of grief, loss and pain which they suffered due to the air accident.
Many of the victims’ family members wore sombre faces and were evidently still bearing the weight of their losses.
Speaking before unveiling the cenotaph, the governor acknowledged that the memories of the plane crash “are probably as fresh as they are painful; particularly today when you are forced to confront the thoughts you may have pushed to the innermost recesses of your minds, just to enable you get from one day to the next”.
When the accident occurred, Fashola said no one could have predicted the sad and painful thoughts that would accompany it.
By nightfall, according to him, “Lives had been cut short and a year may seem like a long time, but for the families and friends of the men, women and children we lost, that day does not feel like history.”
He added that it was an accident that took place in Lagos, but its impact and reach “were beyond our borders. Men and women, Muslims and Christians, Hindus and atheists became joined by a common pain. It was a horrific day. I remember that I had promised myself to rest a little that afternoon and prepare for a new week."
“We had experienced a tragic accident whose cause remains yet unknown. While the cause was at the time unknown, our collective tragedy was immediately unfolding.
“Many nations and their nationalities from India, China, the United States and Nigeria were united by a common grief: the loss of their loved ones.
“Just like many of you, I remember where I was. I had just settled on my settee to watch the television when the news filtered in. Initially, I was told it was a cargo plane in Ghana.
“As I sought to make further enquiries, my thoughts were racing. The cargo was replaceable, how many crew were on board. I was in this reverie of a damage limitation calculation when my enquiry revealed that it was a passenger plane.
“By the time I reached to call our emergency management service, Mr. Oke Osanyintolu confirmed the worst. He was already at the site. A passenger loaded plane had crashed and they were battling a massive crowd and a burning plane,” Fashola recalled.
He said the state government would continue to stay by the families of the victims and support them to lighten their emotional burden, urging all stakeholders in the aviation industry to learn lessons from the incident and ensure such an accident never occurred again.
He disclosed that the state government had produced a document detailing what happened during and after the crash, saying its significance was to keep proper records and serve as a reference material for emergency management in the state.
In his address, the state Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr. Wale Ahmed, observed that the state government could not have stopped the plane from crashing but provided a lot of crash aftermath management support.
He added that the state government helped with the identification of the crash victims through a DNA analysis, explaining that families of the victims were assisted in burying their loved ones and that all the names of the 157 victims had been engraved on the cenotaph, which he said the state government built to immortalise them.
Also speaking at the event, Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Aviation, Mr. George Afamefuna-Ozi, conveyed the federal government’s sympathy to all the families whose husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children and relatives were involved in the accident.
The permanent secretary, who represented the Minister of Aviation, said the federal government was in talks with the management of Dana Air to ensure that full compensations is paid to victims’ families.
Speaking on the issue of compensation, the Dana Air Director of Flight Operations, Captain Oscar Wilson, blamed the delay in payment of full compensation on double claims by some families of the victims from its insurer.
Wilson, who added that the compensation process was being handled by its insurance company, explained that they had received complaints that the affected families were not doing what was expected of them.
The flight director urged the victims’ families who had complaints to approach the insurance company with their valid documents, assuring them that their cases would be considered as soon as the necessary documents had been tendered.
Wilson’s clarification came before the airline’s Managing Director, Mr. Jackie Hathiramani, gave details about the payment of compensation to the families of the victims, stating that only 23 families out of the 153 had been paid the full sum of $100,000 each by last Friday. A week earlier, only 11 families had been fully compensated.
He said: “To be clear, all the victims would be compensated. The only delays in being compensated are the documents required by the insurance company, and that is all.
“The reason is that the insurance company advised us that they had a lot of double claims and that they wanted the authentic families of the victims to get the money.
“Once they are able to sort that out and have all the required documents, the compensation will be paid. The airline is not in a position to fast track the process of compensation. The whole responsibility had been entrusted to the insurance company.”
Hathiramani further disclosed that the airline had made another offer to Pastor Daniel Omowumi, one of those who lost properties to the crash at Olaniyi Street, Iju-Ishaga, aside the palliative measure of $30,000 given last year to ground victims.
Hathiramani, however, did not open up on the amount offered by the airline.
Hathiramani, who spoke in Ikeja shortly after a solemn procession to mark the first anniversary of the crash, again expressed the airline’s sympathy to the families of the victims of the crash.
The procession took off from the domestic terminal 2 and terminated at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) headquarters within the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos.
Also present at the procession were staff members of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), NCAA and Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
The Aviation Round Table (ART), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) were also represented at the procession.