Nigeria began three days of mourning yesterday for 117 people who died when an Abuja-bound Boeing 737 passenger plane crashed after taking off from Lagos airport, killing everyone on board. Bellview Airlines flight 210 slammed into a field near the village of Lissa, about 30 km (20 miles) north of Lagos, leaving a smoking 70 foot (20 metre) crater in the marshy earth, uprooting trees and blowing the roofs off nearby houses. The plane left Lagos during a heavy electrical storm on Saturday night and the pilot made a distress call shortly after, indicating a technical problem.
But the probe into the cause of the disaster and the grim task of identifying victims will be made more difficult because of the violence of the crash. Dismembered and burnt body parts, fuselage fragments and engine parts were strewn over an area the size of a football field. A wig, human intestines, clothes, foam seats and a hand were seen wedged in the sodden earth. A cheque for 948,000 naira (4,000 pounds) from the evangelical Deeper Life church was one of a number of personal papers found in the smouldering wreckage.
A senior police official at the scene said: “The aircraft has crashed and it is a total loss. We can’t even see a whole human body.” A government statement released late on Sunday said: “The Federal Government announces with regret the unfortunate air crash of Bellview Airlines ... which resulted in the loss of life of all passengers and crew on board.” State television said the nation would hold three days of mourning for the dead.
The route the airliner was taking is heavily travelled, with dozens of flights each day between the port of Lagos – one of the world’s biggest cities – and Abuja in the heart of Africa’s most populous nation. The plane was carrying 111 passengers and six crew, the Federal Airport Authority said. A US official confirmed that a US military officer was aboard the aircraft. Diplomats and airline officials said it was also believed to be carrying a top official of the Economic Community of West African States, a Nigerian presidential aide, two Britons and a German.
Distraught relatives wailed and prayed at Lagos airport as a Bellview Airlines official read out a list of passengers. The list may not be entirely accurate because tickets are often transferred between people in Nigeria, the official said. Aviation analysts said the fact the aircraft was at least 20 years old may have been a factor in the crash, but asked why there was so much confusion and delay in finding the crash site. Bellview Airlines is a privately owned Nigerian airline and is popular with expatriates. It recently began international flights to India and London, reports the AP. I.L.