A massive crowd surrounded the compound of the Joint Users Hydrant Installation, where a plane conveying the body of the former Governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, to Akure, crashed on Thursday.
The Associated Airline plane, which had the serial number 5N-BJY, had on board 20 passengers who included members of Agagu’s family, friends, pall bearers working for MIC Caskets and crew members.
Ah Naija gathered from eyewitnesses that the plane showed obvious signs of distress before it went down.
A bus conductor, who had raced to the scene minutes after the plane crashed, said he initially saw the plane zigzagging in the sky.
The young man, who identified himself as Razak, told Ah Naija, “When I saw the plane moving in that irregular manner, I thought that the pilot was flying roughly.
“The plane was low. I didn’t know it was about to crash, so I looked away. But as I looked towards the sky again, I saw the plane going down and a thick smoke rose from the place.
“I ran there and I was able to record it on my phone because the fire fighters were just arriving at the time.”
Ah Naija observed that the plane barely missed the Conoil Tank Farm, which shares a fence with the Joint Users Hydrant Installation.
An official of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria remarked that the calamity would have been greater if the plane had hit the massive tanks because that would have caused an uncontrollable fire due to the combustive contents they contained.
Another official of FAAN, who had the name ‘Aliyu Idris’ on his name tag, said he saw some of the victims before they boarded.
He said, “I saw a woman wearing a white attire and I actually thought the woman was Agagu’s wife. But I wasn’t sure who she was.
“There was no doubt that the pilot discovered that the plane engine was faulty after its take-off because the way it was flying was not normal. The report we got, which only the black box recovered could confirm, was that the pilot was trying to manoeuver back to the tarmac when it went down.”
The General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, said 12 bodies were recovered at the scene of the crash, while eight critically injured passengers, including the pilot, were taken to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital.
Ah Naija met an atmosphere of mourning at the premises of LASUTH where some relations gathered in front of the mortuary. Those who were not sure about the fate of their relations gathered in front of the hospital’s surgical emergency unit.
Information came in bits, but the state Deputy Governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, who later addressed journalists, said 13 of the 20 persons on board the plane were badly burnt and had died.
Even though she did not identify the survivors, she said, “The 13 bodies can’t be identified yet because they were burnt beyond recognition. We are still awaiting the manifest from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
“Five (of the survivors) are here; one is at the Airforce Base Hospital, a woman; and one is at the Federal Medical Centre, Ebute-Meta. But the victim is being transferred to our Special Burns Unit at Gbagada General Hospital. Those are the ones we know and dealing with presently.”
She said that members of the public who had relatives on the plane should visit the hospital to assist with the process of identifying the burnt victims.
Ah Naijalater learnt that one of the passengers, Samson Toyin, was one of the survivors, while Chijioke Duru, was one of the dead. It was not immediately clear whether they were part of the entourage to Ondo State or crew members.
There were many relations of the Chief Executive Officer of MIC Caskets, Tunji Okusanya, in the hospital on Thursday.
One of the company’s workers said they had confirmed that Okusanya and his first son, Junior, died at the scene.
Six other members of staff of MIC Caskets were also involved in the crash.
As the crowd waited for words about the survivors that were receiving treatment, the body of one of the employees of MIC, Mr. Akeem Akintunde, was brought out of the emergency ward. He was one of the rescued victims but he died in the emergency ward.
The crowd erupted into wailing.
An official of MIC said as he wailed, “Akeem has three children. His wife has been calling, asking about the fate of her husband since morning. What do we tell her now? What do we tell his father as well? Who will take care of his children whom he laboured everyday for?”
About 30 minutes later, the body of another official of MIC, identified as Kingley, was brought out of the emergency ward. Apparently rescued alive, but he also died while being given emergency care.
Another official of MIC Caskets, who was in tears, said, “Kingsley was still gasping for breath when he was brought here. He was able to survive till now since morning; that means that he should have been saved. If it were in another country, Kingsley would not have died.
“Even Akeem did not die immediately. It is only the state of the photographer that we don’t know. We understand that he survived.”
The hospital authorities later encouraged family members of the victims to come forward and have their DNA samples taken.
The State Chief Medical Examiner, Prof. John Obafunwa, said “Parents, children, and siblings” fell within the category of relatives that qualify to visit the hospital to identify their relations.
He said, “Forensic autopsy examination will be conducted to determine the cause of death and assist with the identification of victims. Parents, children, siblings can come forward. We will take samples from them and compare with the samples from the victims.
“We will try to hasten up with whatever we have to do.”
Meanwhile, crying and wailing continued at the hospital.
An official of MIC Caskets told Ah Naijathat the son of Okusanya, popularly known as Junior was part of the trip because his father had planned to hand over the business to him.
The official said, “It’s really sad. It’s a shame; Director (Okusanya) had finalised plans to hand over to Junior. That was why he followed them. He wanted him to learn fast.”