Rescuers expect Nigerian plane crash toll to rise

Nigerian rescuers searching for victims after a plane crashed into a densely populated area of Lagos killing all 153 people on board said they expected to recover more bodies in the ruins of a residential building.

The Dana Air MD83 flight from capital Abuja on Sunday reported both of its engines had failed moments before it went down in a poor neighbourhood in the west African nation's largest city, the nation's civil aviation chief said.

"They declared mayday," Harold Demuren told AFP. "The reason was that the two engines failed."

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Rescue workers had recovered at least 137 bodies by Monday evening, spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency Yushau Shuaib said, with most of the victims believed to be passengers on the plane.

The plane destroyed a warehouse used to store textbooks, an adjacent duplex house and a church and ploughed into a two-story residential building, which had four to five flats per floor.

"For now, nobody can estimate the number of corpses still lying there," Sam Udo Onyemachi of Nigeria's Security and Civil Defence Corps told AFP, standing on the fringes of the crash site.

A mass of rubble made access to the building difficult but once the debris was cleared excavation teams would begin combing through the wreckage of the flats, officials said.

President Goodluck Jonathan visited the crash scene on Monday and pledged to improve the country's patchy air safety record as questions swirled over what caused the accident.

At one point Monday morning, police fired tear gas at a surging crowd seeking to get a look at the crash site. At other spots around the site people desperately sought access to the wreckage to locate missing relatives.

They were denied access, with rescue workers at the scene of the crash -- the world's worst air disaster so far this year -- saying the bodies were unrecognisable.

Families gathered outside a morgue at a Lagos hospital, hoping to identify relatives.

An ambulance dropped off 13 body bags on Monday afternoon, with a mortuary attendant saying corpses had been arriving since Sunday night.

The body of a woman clutching a baby was recovered. They were thought to be residents of the neighbourhood, Shuaib said. After nightfall, the search was suspended until Tuesday morning.

Local media reported that the crash was Nigeria's worst since 1992, when a military C-130 went down after takeoff in Lagos, killing around 200 people on board.

There have been a number of other crashes with more than 100 victims over the past decade in Nigeria but the most recent was in 2005.

The flight disappeared from radar screens on Sunday one minute after declaring the emergency at 3:43 pm local time (1443 GMT), 11 nautical miles from the airport, a statement from the aviation ministry said.

Dana, which began operating in 2008, issued a statement specifying that the plane was carrying 146 passengers and seven crew. An earlier account from a spokesman said there were 147 passengers and six crew.

It said the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority was leading the investigation and would be assisted by the US National Transportation Safety Board.

At least one of the plane's two cockpit recorders had been recovered, officials said.

China said six of its nationals were on the plane. The pilot was an American and the co-pilot was Indian, Demuren said. France said that one of its nationals, a woman, was on the flight.

The spokesman for Nigerian state oil firm NNPC was also reportedly among the dead.

by Joel Olatunde Agoi and Ben Simon © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Jun 5, 2012