A short history of plane crashes in Nigeria
Since the first flight activity in Nigeria in 1925 when three RAF DH9s led by Squadron Leader Arthur Conningham made excursions from Cairo to Kano on a trip which according to the British Air Ministry was undertaken for the purpose of gaining experience in long distance flights over tropical countries, Nigeria has seen rather diminishing progression in its history as a flying nation. The country’s record is tainted quite sordidly by a number air mishaps, ranking it number 25 among the list of countries with the most fatal commercial airline accidents since 1945. Taken as a fraction of the number of miles recorded by air travel, Nigeria could in fact rank much higher up.
The first recorded crash of a craft belonging to a passenger airline occurred in May of 1949 when one of the regional WAAC airline DHC Doves crashed in the Niger Delta killing all six passengers and two crew on board. The airline again lost a Bristol 170 Wayfarer in 1955 near Calabar after the aircraft lost control and entered a dive causing the death of all 13 on board. WAAC started operations in 1946 and dominated air travel in that decade in West Africa. The biggest air spectacle of the 1950s however was the BOAC’s Argonaut crash near Kano which killed 32 people as the aircraft crashed into a tree in its initial climb out of Kano Airport.
On 22nd January 1973, a Boeing 707-3D3C, barely 3 years old and operated by Royal Jordanian Airlines for the Nigeria Airways crashed on the runaway at Kano Airport after a diversion while flying Muslim pilgrims back from Jeddah to Lagos. Of the 202 persons on board, 176 lost their lives in the fire that broke out after the airplane’s main gear contacted the runaway and collapsed the airplane to the ground. This remains the deadliest air disaster on Nigerian soil and was at that time the worst single air disaster in history.
Nigeria suffered at least one air disaster nearly every decade since 1950. In 1969, Nigeria Airways Vickers VC-10 crashed on approach to Lagos where it struck a tree and killed all its 87 occupants.
In addition to recording Nigeria’s deadliest crash, the 1970s also saw an up- tick in the number of miles travelled by Nigeria Airways as the national airline company got busier and flying became relatively cheaper in the country. But by the 1980s, the national carrier was losing steam and following allegations of corruption, incompetence and a string of air incidents, like in Enugu where its Fokker F-28 went down killing 53 in 1983, began its steady decline until complete dissolution in 2003. Private airlines emerged after the Nigerian government removed the national carrier’s monopoly in 1988 and would soon rack under their belt their own air mishaps.
The biggest disaster of the 90s decade at home involved a military plane, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules which crashed in Ejigbo canal in Lagos killing 159 persons, mostly middle-ranking military officers returning from training in Lagos. In 1996, an ADC airlines Boeing 727 went down near Lagos. All 144 persons on board died in the crash. Abroad, the biggest crash involving Nigerians happened in October 1993 when a DC-8 chartered by Nigeria Airways from Jeddah to Sokoto crashed on take-off killing all 261 passengers and crew after its tires caught fire.
At the turn of the century, there were now many more private airliners in Nigeria’s airspace. Their use of aged planes and the lack of government oversight in ensuring they complied with all safety requirements rendered the years after 2002 the deadliest in Nigeria’s aviation history. In 2002, an EAS airlines BAC-one-Eleven crashed into a residential neighbourhood in Kano, killing 71 on board and 78 on the ground. In 2005, a Boeing 737 belonging to Bellview Airlines crashed in Lisa Village in Ogun State, taking 117 souls down with it as it disintegrated on impact. Barely two months after, a DC-9-32 owned by Sosoliso Airlines crashed on landing in Port Harcourt bursting into flames and killing all but 2 of the 108 people on board. No more than a year after this, ADC Airlines Flight 53 crashed on its initial climb out of the Nnamdi Azikwe Airport in Abuja killing 96 persons.
Following public outcry, the government introduced a series of measures to improve the safety of the country’s aviation industry and ensured that non-cooperating airlines did not survive. This reduced the number of private airlines in the Nigerian space and improved somewhat the country’s aviation sector. In 2010 the country obtained the US FAA’s IASA Cat 1 rating, acknowledging that most of the measures introduced met international standards.
This however didn’t prevent the second deadliest crash in Nigeria’s history when Dana Air Flight 992 crashed on its trip from Abuja to Lagos in June of 2012 after a dual engine failure.163 people lost their lives in the narrow-body MD-83 as it descended into a residential area in the Lagos suburbs. Perhaps the greatest spectacle of that year, fueled by both bloggers and superficial social media, it generated enough uproar to warrant the temporary seizure of the airline company’s license.
About 1200 persons have died in scheduled passenger airplane mishaps since the start of local travel in Nigeria. This number would be evidently higher if other non-scheduled air accidents, such as the Associated Airlines Embraer crash of 2013, were included. The chartered flight, transporting the body of former Governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Agagu, crashed on take-off at the local airport in Lagos, killing 13 of the 20 occupants on board. However, since 2012 there has not been a scheduled passenger flight accident in Nigeria. Improvements have been made in refurbishing the safety profile of the country which took a tumble following the 2002-2006 air disasters. However, less can be said about a more general improvement in the quality of service delivery, security or government interference in the country’s aviation sector.