October 30, 2006
Nigerian Plane Crash Kills 98, Including Top Muslim Leader
By LYDIA POLGREEN
DAKAR, Senegal, Oct. 29 — A commercial airliner with 104 passengers and crew members on board, including the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s vast Muslim population, crashed shortly after takeoff in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Sunday. It was the third deadly passenger plane crash in Nigeria in a little more than a year.
Six people were taken to local hospitals, aviation officials told reporters at the crash site. The other 98 people on board were presumed dead. The plane crashed just past the runway at the Abuja airport after taking off in stormy weather, and the wreckage was strewn across a wooded area beyond the runway. News agencies reported that some bodies had been recovered, but it was unclear how many.
The flight was operated by ADC Airlines, one of Nigeria’s many small domestic airlines. The 23-year-old plane was a Boeing 737-2B7, The Associated Press reported, quoting an Aviation Ministry spokesman.
The plane was headed to Sokoto, the capital of a state near Nigeria’s northern border. Among the passengers was the sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido, the spiritual leader since 1996 of Nigeria’s Muslims, who are believed to constitute half of the country’s estimated population of 130 million.
“It is a terrible tragedy, an unimaginable loss,” said Mustapha Shehu, a spokesman for the Sokoto State government, in a telephone interview just moments after the sultan’s body had been brought to Sokoto for burial by a government plane. “Everyone is in mourning.”
The crash was the latest in a string of disasters in Nigeria’s skies. More than 200 people died in two aviation accidents in Nigeria in 2005. Last October, a flight operated by Bellview Airlines, one of the country’s most popular carriers, crashed shortly after taking off from Lagos on its way to Abuja, killing 117 people.
Just two months later, a flight operated by Sosoliso Airlines crashed on the runway at Port Harcourt, the main hub of Nigeria’s oil industry. Dozens of high school students on their way home for Christmas from an elite boarding school in Abuja were among the more than 100 people killed in that crash.
The two episodes, coming just months apart, prompted the government to ground the entire domestic fleet of both airlines for inspections. Nigerian aviation officials later said that sudden weather changes were to blame for both accidents.
Last month 10 senior military officials were killed in a military plane crash in Benue State.
Despite its vast oil wealth — Nigeria is the world’s sixth-largest oil exporter — its infrastructure is crumbling, and traveling even a few hundred miles by road takes more than a day.
With most domestic fares running at least $100 one-way in a country where 60 percent of the people live in poverty, the airlines tend to cater to the country’s business and political elite. Politicians, diplomats and prominent business people have been among the dead in recent crashes.
In addition to the sultan, several top Sokoto State officials were on the plane, Mr. Shehu said, including two senators and the deputy governor. The group had been in the capital attending a government meeting on education, Mr. Shehu said.
The death of the sultan leaves Nigeria’s Muslim population without one of its most prominent voices against interreligious conflict as the country enters a contentious period leading up to elections next year. Mr. Maccido was crucial in calming religious tensions in 2002, when deadly riots broke out over a beauty pageant in northern Nigeria, and in 2004, when interreligious violence killed dozens in Plateau State.
The 2007 presidential election is likely to fan these flames again as the largely Muslim north and the largely Christian south battle over which region the country’s next president will come from.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Nigeria's Top Muslim Leader Dead In Latest Plane Crash; 98 Are Killed
In the latest and perhaps the most far-reaching plane crash in Nigeria - the third in little more than a year - Nigeria's Muslim spiritual leader and 97 others were killed near the capital city of Abuja, the New York Times reported late Sunday: