Bellview: Explosion suspected

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INDICATIONS emerged yesterday that Bellview flight 210 which disappeared shortly after take-off from Lagos airport enroute Abuja may have exploded before it crashed into Lisa, a community in the South West State of Ogun.

No fewer than 117 passengers and crew among them prominent Nigerians perished in the Boeing 737-200 aircraft.

It took more than 15 hours to locate the crash site of the aircraft which pilot reportedly sent a distress message barely three minutes after take-off about 8.45 pm. on Saturday.

Aviation Minister Prof. Babalola Borishade who was in Lisa yesterday hinted that the loss of contact between the terminal crew and the pilot may have been as a result of the explosion that rocked the aircraft.

He suggested that the explosion may have destroyed the signal device of the craft and created a communication gap.

The disclosure came even as the Minister said that the Federal Government has engaged the services of the United States (U.S.) aviation experts to unravel them mysteries of the crash.

This is sequel to President Olusegun Obasanjo's directive to conduct "special and detailed investigations," into the crash.

Also forensic experts from abroad are being expected in the country, to assist in identification of victims of the ill-fated plane just as the aircraft's Black Box is yet to be found.

Mandating Prof. Borishade to also involve Boeing Corporation, manufacturer of the aircraft, in the investigation, President Obasanjo charged that assistance should also be sought from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Mrs. Oluremi Oyo told State House Correspondents yesterday in Abuja that the president's directives underlined his resolve to ensure that nothing was swept under the carpet on the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Oyo, who quoted the president said: "President Olusegun Obasanjo today (yesterday) requested the Minister of Aviation to do special and detailed investigations into the air crash of Bellview flight from Lagos to Abuja Saturday night". She further quoted the president as saying.

"Please, involve manufacturer of the aircraft, seek assistance from ICAO and U.S. authorities. Let us leave no stone unturned in ensuring thorough investigations of this tragic incident."

She added that Obasanjo maintained that the crash, which occurred in Lisa, a village in Ifo local government area of Ogun State, few minutes after take off, should be properly investigated because of the huge human loss.

Her words: "He said that the aircraft contained human beings. All of them are people that we most probably have known or our families know. He said that my prayer is that God will continue to condole the families of all those who have lost loved ones. He said that it is indeed a trying period for all of us, but we have the responsibility to continue to forge ahead as a people."

President Obasanjo, she said, also told sympathisers that last weekend double tragedy was a big loss, not only to him but the entire country.

Disclosing engagement of U.S. experts, Prof. Borishade who visited the accident site at Lissa, Ifo, Ogun State said the death of the 117 people on board the aircraft was inevitable as they met it mid air.

Meanwhile, security has been beefed up at the crash scene, with about 200 soldiers deplored from the 321 Field Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta cordoning-off the site.

However, whereabouts of Black Box of the aircraft is generating disagreement between government and its security agencies.

Speaking with newsmen after inspecting the accident site, Prof Borishade said government has contacted experts from the U.S. to investigate cause of the crash and also exhume the wreckage.

He stressed that the experts have assured of their coming as soon as possible with much needed equipment to investigate cause of the crash and also exhume the debris.

Lamenting delay in the discovery of the crash site, Prof Borishade disclosed that it could not be located immediately it occurred as the helicopters on duty could not have thorough access in the dark hence the discovery in the morning.

Also speaking at the crash scene shortly after Borishade's departure, Gov Daniel who disclosed that President Obasanjo asked him to visit the scene on his behalf said: "clearly from what we can see here there would have been no chance to save anybody.

"I am not an expert in Aviation matters but I think what happened must have happened mid-air. When that incident occurred there would be nobody alive," Daniel said.

On his findings, Daniel said "I have seen part of bodies on the trees. We just need to give thanks to almighty God and accept that this is the way God desired this one".

Also speaking with newsmen, Inspector General of Police, (IGP), Mr Sunday Ehindero who accompanied Governor Daniel said: "This place (crash scene) would be condoned off to preserve the scene of the accident".

Disagreeing with Prof Borishade and Governor Daniel on the whereabouts of the aircraft's Black Box the police boss insisted that it has been recovered.

"Yesterday, we discovered the Black Box and haded it to the investigating aviation team", Ehindero said.

But the Minister, who disagreed with the position while speaking with journalists in Lagos said tuselage of the aircraft home of the Black Box, will not be hurriedly pulled out in order not to destroy other relevant evidences vital for investigation.

Prof. Borishade also disclosed that investigations will not be limited to the accident scene, noting that it would be extended to the airline's office as well as the state of mind of the pilot before the flight.

On the possibility of an immediate release of the report of the investigation, the Aviation Minister said reports of such investigation are not usually published but would be forwarded to relevant authorities for proper adjustments, where necessary.

The Minister also disclosed that insurance cover for passengers of the ill-fated flight is being worked out by Loylds of London in accordance with agreed standards of the International Aviation Organisation (ICAO) convention of 1999.

Answering a question on why Bellview is still carrying on flight operations despite the accident, Prof. Borishade pointed out that grounding the airline will amount to sending wrong signals to the international community, reiterating that the ill-fated aircraft was certified airworthy.

"The aircraft was airworthy as it carried out a check last February. The co-pilot also had his wife on board. If he had any doubt about the aircraft's worthiness, he would not have allowed his wife to board", he insisted.

Decrying lack of coordination of search and rescue operations in the country, Prof Borishade said no media organisation called appropriate authorities to inform that the site has been located.

"If there were survivors, what the radio station did would not have helped matters", Prof Borishade noted.