US embassy cable - 02ABUJA1429

NIGERIA: AIR ACCIDENT KILLS OVER 100 IN KANO

Identifier: 02ABUJA1429
Wikileaks: View 02ABUJA1429 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2002-05-09 09:11:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: EAIR CASC PREL NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 001429 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
DEPARTMENT PLEASE PASS TO FAA AND NTSB AND DOT 
DOT FOR KEVIN SAMPLE AND B ALLEN 
STATE ALSO FOR AF, AF/W, AF/PAS 
NSC FOR AF DIRECTOR MICHAEL MILLER 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/08/2012 
TAGS: EAIR, CASC, PREL, NI 
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: AIR ACCIDENT KILLS OVER 100 IN KANO 
 
 
CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR HOWARD F. JETER; REASONS 1.5(B) AND 
(D) 
 
 
1.(U) This report is being sent to give Washington the latest 
information we have about the May 4 airplane crash in Kano. 
According to our best information, all but two of the eighty 
people aboard the plane died in the crash which occurred 
shortly after the Lagos-bound EAS aircraft took off from 
Kano's airport. The crash took place in a residential 
neighborhood, and an estimated range of thirty to seventy 
local residents were also killed.  Because of the lack of 
forensic expertise and local records, ascertaining the exact 
number of deaths will be difficult. 
 
 
2.(U) Among the victims are Minister of Sports I.M. Aku, 
General N.T.H. Bozingha and the wife and son of influential 
retired General Jerry Useni, former Minister for the Federal 
Capital Territory under Sani Abacha. The brother of the 
Embassy's FSN Political Assistant Mukhtari Shitu was also one 
of the victims, therefore the tragedy of the crash struck 
close to home for all Mission personnel, both Americans and 
FSNs alike. There apparently were no AMCITS on board the 
flight, though the possibility cannot yet be totally ruled 
out.  The EAS passenger manifest, which lists victims and 
survivors only by the first initial and surname, contains 
possible hits on our American Citizen Services Warden 
database.  We continue to check  to ensure none of these 
victims were United States Citizens.  Two Frenchmen were 
confirmed killed in the crash.  Bodies of victims who could 
not be identified were buried in a mass grave in Kano on May 
7. 
 
 
3.(C) This crash highlights the precarious state of many of 
Nigeria's domestic airlines. The use of old, poorly 
maintained craft, heightens the danger of a fatal accident. 
This crash has increased the already high degree of wariness 
of the expatriate community about domestic air travel in 
Nigeria. 
 
 
4.(U) The crash occurred approximately three minutes after 
takeoff from Kano Airport at about 1:30 p.m., Saturday May 4. 
 The aircraft originated in Lagos, flew to Jos, made a stop 
in Kano with a return flight to Lagos. The plane went down in 
the residential area of Gwamaja, destroying many residences, 
two schools, and reportedly two small neighborhood mosques. 
 
 
5. (C) President Obasanjo cut short a trip to Southern Africa 
to respond to the emergency.  He visited the site Monday 
morning and then prayed with the Emir of Kano for the repose 
of the souls of the dead.  He declared a two-day period of 
national mourning and committed N10,000,000 ($870,000) in 
relief assistance to the victims. (Comment: President 
Obasanjo seems to have learned a public relations lesson 
after the Ijeka Cantonment explosions in late January.  Then, 
Obasanjo was accused of being callous and insensitive to 
victims and their families after the explosions claimed over 
1,000 lives.  This time, Obasanjo responded quickly to the 
disaster, with both words of condolence and aid to the 
victims. Several of his supporters, especially the Governor 
of Bauchi State, urged him to do so. Although some still 
complain that his visit to the crash site was too short, that 
he neglected to meet with the victim's families, and that the 
relief funds were too meager, Obasanjo's response showed 
greater human and political sensitivities than he did four 
months ago. End Comment.) 
 
 
6.  (U) Theories about the cause of the crash abound.  EAS is 
reported by the media as notorious for its aged fleet, poor 
maintenance record, and financial difficulties.  Although no 
report specifically mentions the age of the crashed 
BAC1-11-500 jet, there is speculation that the plane was 
nearly thirty years old. Moreover, the Subcommittee Chairman 
of the House of Representatives Committee on the Nigeria 
Civil Aviation Authority, Ned Nwoko, has hinted of a law 
already in the works which would make it compulsory for 
aircraft older than 25 to be grounded.  The Ministry of 
Aviation had proposed a ban on aircraft over 22 years, but at 
the time of the accident it was being contested by the 
Private Airline Association.  If this law were already on the 
books the plane would have been offline and the tragedy 
averted. (The modus operandi of many Nigerian airlines is to 
purchase, at relatively low costs, aged planes deemed too old 
and taken offline by carriers in other countries. Further 
cost-cutting measures by some carriers include using 
reconditioned rather than new parts when carrying out 
repairs.) 
 
 
7. (C) EAS management publicly contend the aircraft was in 
perfect mechanical order before the flight,  but other 
reports claimed the same aircraft was involved in a near 
accident only a week ago during the same flight.  The 
National Chairman of the Alliance For Democracy political 
party told PolCouns that he was told by a local official in 
Kano that the  pilot who flew the plane from Jos to Kano 
refused to fly the  aircraft to Lagos because of its 
condition.  The AD chairman said that EAS had to find a 
willing pilot at the last minute. 
 
 
8. (U) There are reports that the crash was caused when a 
wing fell off the plane; other reports claim that there was 
an engine explosion. Still other reports blamed the runway, 
claiming that the main runway is under repair and the one 
used Saturday was too short. One "black box" has been found, 
while the other is still missing. The government has grounded 
all BAC1-11-500 aircraft in Nigeria and has promised a full 
investigation. In a conversation with Ambassador, the 
Minister of Aviation has asked for technical assistance to 
help establish a program to investigate the crash as as well 
as help it establish better criteria for purchasing and 
maintaining commercial aircraft (septel). 
 
 
9. (C) While the crash has shaken many people and caused them 
to lament the state of the domestic airlines, some Nigerians 
feel stung by the international media attention the crash has 
generated.  During a May 7 meeting with the Ambassador, 
Foreign Minister Lamido stated that CNN and BBC were overly 
critical, making it appear that Nigerians and the GON were 
totally irresponsible.  He remarked that airplane crashes 
were inevitable in any country if enough flights were 
attempted but CNN and the BBC were trying to make Nigerian 
skies look especially dangerous.  Yet, almost in the same 
breath, Lamido castigated the domestic air carriers and 
admitted trepidation when flying on some domestic airlines. 
 
 
10.  (C) This air crash is the latest event in a string of 
tragedies that have befallen Nigeria in the past eight 
months.  Because of the nature of this particular tragedy 
everyone has had to sheathe their political swords, if only 
for the moment.  There will be collective mourning and the 
grief will be genuine.  There will be calls for reform and 
these calls will be sincere as well.  The Ambassador received 
an urgent appeal from the Nigerian Minister of Aviation Kemi 
Chikwe for assistance to investigate the crash and to help 
Nigeria get a better handle on its domestic airlines 
(septel).  We have long maintained that most domestic 
commercial airlines in Nigeria are unsafe.  A thorough 
investigation into aircraft procurement and maintenance 
practices is long overdue. However, there is danger that this 
somber moment will recede and that business as usual will 
resume unless momentum to launch a serious investigation is 
maintained.  Our positive response to the Aviation Minister's 
reuest could help sustain that moment.  It would be a compund 
tragedy if this crash crash does not compel greater airline 
safety. 
JETER 

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