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Britons feared among dead in wreckage of Nigerian jet

Posted by DULUE MBACHU, Lagos on 2005/10/23 | Views: 957 |

Britons feared among dead in wreckage of Nigerian jet

TWO Britons are believed to be among the 117 people killed when a Boeing 737 crashed and disintegrated in flames shortly after take-off from Lagos airport in Nigeria this weekend.

TWO Britons are believed to be among the 117 people killed when a Boeing 737 crashed and disintegrated in flames shortly after take-off from Lagos airport in Nigeria this weekend.

Government officials in Nigeria confirmed last night that all on board had died in Saturday's crash, despite earlier reports that about half the passengers may have survived

The plane was carrying 111 passengers and six crew, the Federal Airport Authority said.

Reuters news agency in Nigeria last night reported that diplomats and airline officials had said they believed two Britons were on board.

The plane was also thought to be carrying a top official of the Economic Community of West African States, a Nigerian presidential aide and a German. A US official confirmed that a US military officer was on the aircraft.

Late yesterday, officials released a statement which 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."

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." Twisted chunks of metal, ripped luggage and mangled bodies littered the crash site north of the country's largest city yesterday.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, grieving for his wife who died in Spain within hours of Saturday's crash, asked "all Nigerians to pray for those aboard the plane and their families".

A TV station, Africa Independent Television, showed footage of villagers in Lissa, a town 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Lagos, looking over the charred wreckage of a destroyed white Boeing 737-200.

The aircraft was broken into several pieces, and the sky-blue streaked logo of Bellview Airlines could be seen on the aircraft's shattered tail. Villagers said there were no survivors.

Wellington Eyimina, Bellview Airline's chief pilot, said that officials from the airline also had visited the site.

"From what our people saw there, I'm afraid there are no survivors," he said, adding that the airline had launched an investigation.

It was unclear what brought down the airliner, but it was not thought to be terrorist-related. Initial reports indicated the plane lost contact with the Lagos control tower five minutes after taking off from Murtala Muhammed international airport in Lagos at 8:45pm (19:45 GMT) on Saturday, said Jide Ibinola, a spokesman for the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria.

State radio said pilots issued a distress call before the plane disappeared from radar.

The plane was headed to the capital, Abuja, on what was supposed to have been a 50-minute flight. Bellview, one of about a dozen local airlines plying Nigeria's skies, is a privately-owned Nigerian company that operates a fleet of mostly Boeing 737s on internal routes and throughout West Africa.

It first began flying about ten years ago, and has not suffered a crash before.

Many consider Bellview to be among the most reliable of the airlines shuttling between Nigeria's often-chaotic regional airports, which can resemble bus depots, where crowds battle for seats on planes.

As news of the crash poured in early yesterday, representatives of many countries gathered at Lagos airport to find out if any of their citizens were on board the doomed flight.

Abilola Oloko, a spokesman for Oyo state where the plane crashed on Saturday, initially said that more than half of those on board had survived. But he later said "the latest reports coming to us say that all the people on the plane died."

He cited confusion at the crash scene for the conflicting reports, which could not be immediately verified.

Lagos police spokesman Bode Ojajuni said search teams located the crashed plane near Kishi, about 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Lagos, but Red Cross officials said that information was erroneous and they later found the plane in Lissa.

President Obasanjo's office said in a statement that the head of state, currently in Abuja, was personally overseeing search operations.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry said Mr Obasanjo's wife died yesterday morning after undergoing an operation at a hospital in the southern resort of Marbella, where she had been on a private visit.

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