by Stanley Azuakola
It’s been six years since a Sosoliso plane crashed at the Port Harcourt International Airport, cutting short the lives of the over 100 passengers on board, most of them school children. Still, the memory is hard to take, especially when one considers the cause of the crash.
The government has not made public the report of the panel which investigated that crash, casting doubts on whether anything will come out of the ongoing investigations into the cause of the Dana Air plane crash.
However, someone familiar with the investigations into the Sosoliso crash has shed light on what truly transpired that Sunday afternoon in Port Harcourt. Mr Angus Ifeanyi Ozoka, the pioneer Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), who headed the investigative panel, told reporters that the crash occurred because there was no diesel to power the generator for the runway lights, causing the pilot to lose sight of the runway.
Even though the crash happened in the afternoon, power for the runway was an issue because it was raining very heavily. Ozoka said that “From the way we concluded our report after several months of investigations, the aircraft was coming to land, it didn’t have the runway in sight.
“It couldn’t see the runway as it was raining very heavily. The runway lights were not on because at the Port Harcourt Airport they were trying to save fuel.
“In the day time, they would switch off the generator, if there was no electricity and at night they would not switch on the generator except a pilot requested when he was approaching.
“So when the plane was at 8 nautical miles from the airport, it called and asked if it was raining, they told him no precipitation, they gave him the wind direction and speed, until the plane got to the decision altitude and went below it.”
Read the rest of the report as carried by Thisday:
He [Ozoka] added that by the time the Sosoliso plane was approaching for landing, the wind direction suddenly changed dramatically, becoming heavier with associated wind shear activity; as such, the strength of the wind forced the plane to slam into the ground.
“The plane crashed on the grass side and disintegrated into a total wreckage site of 1.2 kilometres.
“First, the plane touched the ground, then it bounced into an exposed concrete drainage where the number two engine and staircase were dislodged in that concrete and started disintegrating into pieces, with total land wreckage of 1.2km. In that situation, it was difficult to fight a fire over a spread of 1.2km,” he said.
Ozoka said government through Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should set strict conditions for all airline operators in the country to meet and those who cannot do so should be allowed to wind up.
According to him, government is not Father Christmas that operators should run to for bailouts, adding that anybody who wants to venture into the aviation industry should know that the industry is both capital and labour intensive.
He suggested that government’s 22-year-age limit for entry of aircraft into the country should be revisited as any aircraft above 20 years is presumed to be operating above the life cycle of that aircraft.
However, he said with good maintenance, some aircraft could still be kept airborne for over 25 years before they are retired.