Lagos plane crash: Nigeria mourns victims

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Media caption,
The BBC's Will Ross: "Are enough safety checks being done?"

Three days of mourning have begun in Nigeria for more than 150 people killed when their plane crashed in the main city of Lagos.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-83 ploughed into a printing works and residential buildings before bursting into flames.

Rescue workers, who worked through the night, are still searching for bodies.

Everyone on board the aircraft died. There were also casualties on the ground, but it is not yet known how many people were killed.

The airliner, operated by Lagos-based company Dana Air, had flown in from the capital, Abuja, when it crashed and burst into flames on Sunday.

The plane came down in the Iju area, just north of the airport.

Aviation Minister Stella Oduah said that the pilot contacted the Lagos control tower to declare an emergency at 15:43 GMT, 11 nautical miles away from the runway.

"A minute later, the aircraft disappeared from the air traffic control radar," Ms Oduah told reporters at a briefing at the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority headquarters in Lagos.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the passengers and the people on the ground who lost their lives in this tragedy," the minister said.

Safety questions

After the crash, local residents flocked to the plane's wreckage, some trying to help by putting out fires, AP news agency reports.

By Monday morning there was some unrest at the site as some people tried to loot, leading to clashes with soldiers, an eyewitness told the BBC.

"I saw a crowd of people trying to get to the scene of the accident. Then, after a while I saw some military escorts pushing them and there was a sort of stampede," Samson Omosohwofa told the BBC's World Update programme.

"[The soldiers] were beating people. People were running over themselves and wounding themselves when they were trying to get away from them" he said.

Police fired teargas at the crowd at one point, the AFP news agency reports.

Correspondents say casualties on the ground may have been minimised because it was Sunday and the commercial buildings were likely to have been empty.

There have been distressing scenes as people found out that they had relatives and friends on board; most of the passengers were Nigerian, says the BBC's Will Ross in Lagos.

The Chinese embassy said six of its nationals died.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who is due to visit the scene of the crash, said he had ordered the "fullest possible" investigation into the crash.

On 11 May, a similar Dana Air plane - possibly the same one - developed a technical problem and was forced to make an emergency landing in Lagos, our correspondent says.

Questions are now being asked about the general safety of aviation in Nigeria, as this is the fourth crash in the last decade in which more than 100 people were killed, our correspondent adds.

Like many African countries, the country has a poor air safety record.

Improvements were made five years ago after a spate of airline disasters, the chairman of the watchdog Nigeria Aviation Safety Initiative, Dung Pam, told the BBC.

But he said the main problem in Nigeria is that there was not a facility to carry out the relevant checks on old aircraft.

"In fact, the whole of West Africa doesn't have a facility that will carry out C Checks [extensive maintenance surveys] on commercial aeroplanes."

Indian-owned Dana Air, which has yet to make an official statement about the cause of the crash, has set up a 24-hour hotline for relatives.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of guests who were involved in the Dana Air mishap. May the souls of the deceased rest in peace," its website says.

Dana Air says it operates Boeing MD-83 planes to cities around Nigeria out of Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos.

The airport is a major hub for West Africa and saw 2.3 million passengers pass through it in 2009, according to the most recent statistics provided by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.

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