- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 6, 2012

LAGOS, NIGERIA — Rescue officials in Nigeria said Wednesday they have ended their search for bodies at the site where an airliner crashed into a densely populated area, killing all 153 people aboard the plane and a still-unknown number of people on the ground.

Workers cleared away the remaining pieces of the wreckage of the MD-83 aircraft Wednesday from Iju-Ishaga, the neighborhood about five miles from Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport where the Dana Air flight went down on Sunday.

Emergency workers there have recovered 153 complete corpses as well as fragmented remains, said Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency. It is unclear if the fragmented remains represent less than a dozen victims, or dozens.

Officials now plan to survey the neighborhood to find who remains missing after the plane smashed into two apartment buildings, a printing business and a woodshop, Mr. Shuaib said.

Authorities have discussed using DNA to identify the dead. Samples would have to be sent abroad for testing.

The cause of the crash on a sunny, clear Sunday afternoon remains unclear. The crew radioed the tower that they had engine trouble shortly before the plane went down.

Authorities already have collected the flight voice and data recorders, and plan to send them abroad for analysis.

No ‘suicide mission’

Public anger has risen in the country against the airline since the crash.

On Tuesday, the Nigerian government indefinitely suspended Dana Air’s license to fly in Nigeria, Africa’s most population nation, as a safety precaution, said aviation ministry spokesman Joe Obi.

A Dana Air official on Wednesday defended the commercial airline’s actions leading up to the crash, saying its chief engineer was aboard the doomed flight.

Francis Ogboro, an executive who oversees Dana Air, told journalists that the company’s employees wouldn’t have embarked on a “suicide mission” by flying on an unsafe plane.

Mr. Ogboro also said the plane showed no faults or problems Sunday morning before it crashed.

A statement posted to the company’s website described the airline as “professionally managed,” saying the flight’s captain had logged 18,500 flight hours, with 7,100 hours on an MD-83.

Dana Air said the plane that crashed had its last safety inspection on May 30 and was certified to fly by Nigerian regulators.

However, oversight remains lax. Nigeria’s government is hobbled by mismanagement and corruption.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood where the crash occurred has grown dramatically over the decades since British colonialists first established an airstrip there, as Lagos surges toward becoming the largest city in Africa.

That population pressure has seen homes, business and industrial sites shoot up along the approach route used by aircraft landing at the airport, changing what used to be forests and wetlands into a sprawling megacity.

The development has put the population there at risk with many aviation disasters in Nigeria over the last two decades.

Among the dead

At least seven American citizens are among those killed in the crash, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. Some, he said, were dual U.S.-Nigerian citizens, but he could not provide more details.

A woman from West Hartford, Conn., her husband and four young children died on the flight. Their neighbors identified them as Maimuna Anyene, her Nigerian husband Onyeke, and their children, a 5-month-old, 1-year-old twins and a 3-year-old.

Americans Josephine Onita and Jennifer Onita of Missouri City, Texas, also were killed in the crash, their sister said. She said her sisters were heading to Lagos for a wedding.

Britain’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that a woman with dual Nigerian and British citizenship was believed to be among the dead and confirmed that members of her family in the U.K. were traveling to Lagos. The woman is believed to have been living in Britain, but no other details about her identity have been confirmed, officials said.

The Press Trust of India reported diplomatic officials there believe Indian national Rijo K. Eldhose and co-pilot Mahendra Singh Rathore, an American of Indian origin, were killed in the crash.

Others killed in the crash included at least four Chinese citizens, two Lebanese nationals, a French citizen and a Canadian, officials have said.

The crash is the worst to hit the country since September 1992, when a military transport plane crashed shortly after taking off from Lagos, killing 163 people.

On Tuesday, mourners silently walked between rows of the dead from the crash, peering into burned faces in hopes of claiming the remains of their loved ones.

Those in grief passed by more than a dozen bodies able to be recognized by sight alone in a Lagos hospital parking lot. Onlookers wore surgical masks to block out the smell.

“We are without eyes,” said Jennifer Enanana, as she sobbed in the parking lot over the death of her younger brother in the crash. She had lost another brother within the year. “We don’t have anybody that will protect us that can stand like a man and defend us. Dana stole him.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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