Dana Crash - More Questions Than Answers by Simon Kolawole


Until—and only until—we get the full report of the investigation into last Sunday's Dana crash can we make valid pronouncements on who or what is at fault. However, this fact should not stop us from making comments on what we have been hearing and seeing since the unfortunate accident, which killed all passengers aboard Flight 0992 as well as tenants of a two-storey building at Iju-Ishaga into which the aircraft crashed. The first rumour that was circulated was that the station manager of Dana Air in Abuja had advised against flying the aircraft because of the state of the engines. He was said to have been ignored. The result was the crash. I'm not an aviation expert by any definition, but it is difficult to accept that a station manager, whose primary duty is to sell tickets, would have so much input into whether an aircraft should fly or not. It's a technical decision. The pilots would rather rely on the engineers than the station manager to decide whether or not to fly an aircraft.

Another strong rumour was that President Goodluck Jonathan's wife, Patience, was having a party in Lagos and the air space was closed for her. So when the pilot asked for emergency landing, according to this story, the control tower could not oblige him because of the closed air space. I first got a text to that effect a few hours after the crash. The rumour resurfaced with vengeance on the social network on Tuesday and began to gain momentum. As it turned out, the First Lady had been in town the previous day and left on Monday. I also know that even if the air space is closed, it has to be reopened in an emergency. I never believed the rumour that the air space was closed, anyway. I flew out of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport around 2.45pm that same day. The plane had problems at 2.42pm or so. My colleague, Alhaji Tunde Rahman, was aboard a flight about to take off when Dana crashed. Their take-off was delayed but they eventually took off. So when was the air space closed?
However, the much we've been told officially is that the pilot reported loss of two engines. The Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, said as much last Wednesday. Dana first denied that there was an engine failure but then admitted much later. But the airline is yet to admit that the two engines failed. My take on this is that Dana defended the engine issue too quickly; those who had access to the conversation between the pilot and the control tower (via the cockpit voice recorder, which has been transcribed) said the pilot reported engine failures – why on earth would Dana deny that? What is their denial based on? I know the airline is trying as much as possible to absolve itself of any blame in the mishap, but I think we need to wait for the outcome of the investigation before they begin to defend themselves. Nobody is ready to listen to them now.
The first engine was said to have failed 40 minutes into the flight. That was when the pilot first got in touch with the control tower to report an engine problem. If this is true, it will explain a few things for the benefit of our understanding of the sequence of events. According to the experts, the pilot could have decided to land in Ibadan or Akure. However, he probably decided to forge ahead to land in Lagos. Why? Perhaps he thought the second engine was good enough to take him to Lagos. Or maybe he was not familiar with Ibadan airport and chose to dine with the "devil" he knew rather than the one he didn't know. We don't know yet. Whatever the case may be, he didn't make it to Lagos. The aircraft crashed on approach. No one survived.
Dana has argued that the aircraft could fly on one engine. Oscar Wilson, Dana's director of flight operations, told a news conference on Thursday that all the planes used by Dana are tested to ensure they can fly on just one engine, “in accordance with international norms”. Does this mean only one engine was in good condition on flight 0992? The investigation should help us understand that too. If only one engine was in good condition—as Wilson’s statement would seem to suggest—we may be able to understand why the pilot reported a second engine failure shortly after the first. It means the aircraft had only one good engine; the back-up was possibly not good enough, it seems. Now, these are still conjectures, based on Wilson’s statement. If investigation eventually reveals that only one engine was in good shape, we may have to deviate from “international norms” and insist that, henceforth, because of our history of crashes, every aircraft must have two very good engines ready to run. Of course, engines are mechanical devices that can fail at any time, but at least let us be sure we have two good ones first. Lives can be saved that way.
Many questions are being asked over this incident, which should provoke answers now or later. For instance, many passengers had been complaining about Dana before the crash. Sonnie Ekwowusi, a member of THISDAY Editorial Board, wrote exactly four days to the crash raising concerns on the state of the Dana aircraft he flew in. I would like to know if the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) took any action on this, even if at the ordinary level of contacting Dana to respond to the complaint. I know that there is a media department at NCAA, whose job is to draw the attention of the NCAA hierarchy to media reports that have anything to do with the safety of civil aircraft. Was that done? If it was done, what was the response of the hierarchy? Did the press officer at the Ministry of Aviation read the report? What did the minister do? I think we need answers to these questions. We've been celebrating all kinds of people in this country, clapping for them at the slightest provocation. I think when we need to ask them questions, they should be willing to answer too. If these public complaints were actually picked up on the pages of newspapers and ignored by the powers that be, then some people have questions to answer.
A second question has to do with the state of the aircraft. After the EAS crash of 2002, we came up with a policy that aircraft that are more than 22 years old should not be allowed into the country. As things have turned out now, it means you can bring in an aircraft that is 21 years and 11 months old and begin to fly it here. It can fly for another 10 years! Are airlines taking advantage of this? Are they bringing in very old aircraft to operate in Nigeria? We should not tinker with this policy? There is also this argument about the state of an aircraft and its age. Some experts have argued that a 30-year-old aircraft could be as good as new, since most of the parts would have been changed over time. So the age may not really matter as much as the maintenance level. Like I’ve said, I am not an aviation expert by even the cheapest definition, but as a layman, I would easily prefer newer, younger aircraft to older ones. It is poverty that makes a man say: “This my Tokunbo car (second-hand) is very solid!” How can Tokunbo be more solid than a new car? We need to look at this policy again.
Meanwhile, with due respect to those who lost their beloved ones in the Dana crash, I think the Federal Executive Council (FEC) displayed too much drama on Wednesday where almost everyone turned out in black to mourn the victims. There was nothing wrong with that, I must quickly state here, but I just wonder why FEC doesn’t seem to be aware that more people die in road accidents than air crashes in Nigeria. Families have been wiped out on the road by tankers carrying petrol. Luxury buses crash and kill passengers every now and then. FEC has never tabled this for discussion or set up panels to look into safety issues on our roads. Last week, 50 persons were killed in a communal clash in Nasarawa State. FEC did not deem it fit to wear black. I think there is something wrong somewhere.
I know that air crashes attract more attention than other accidents. After all, it is the elite that fly. Therefore, we are more likely to pay attention to air crashes. But in addition to the air crashes, government must pay attention to the tragedies that befall the ordinary people every day.
By Simon Kolawole

2 comments

  1. infact, dis is a gud report. FEC n Riches know dat aircraft is their major means of xportatn compared 2 land. Poor man cant afford ticket fee n dis bring wide gap btw Rich n Poor

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  2. Well spoken Kolawole! Your column reminded me of the state of our Port harcourt-Enugu express road and the incessanct road accidents on it. I think FEC is not bordered on this as the adage goes"wetin concern train with bad road"? I bet you, if the 153 people that died in the dana air crash were to die on road accicent, no such "black attire fanfair" would not have been necessary! The state of the roads does not even suggest we have a careing FEC. The roads concerns the ordinary citizens like us while the sky belongs to those in power and elites! May the soul that perished in Dana air resurrect in the last day!

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