- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

LAGOS, Nigeria — Twisted chunks of debris littered a forest after a Nigerian passenger plane carrying 117 persons crashed after takeoff, and officials said yesterday that all aboard were feared dead.

Red Cross and government officials said search teams found no sign that anyone on the Boeing 737 survived when it plunged to earth Saturday night after leaving Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria.

“It was a very pitiable sight. The aircraft was partly submerged [in the ground] and broken into several pieces,” said Fidelis Onyeyiri, chief of the National Civil Aviation Authority. “There were no survivors from what we saw.”

The State Department said one American was on the flight.

Confusion reigned for hours after the disaster, reflecting the sometimes inefficient government in this West African nation of 130 million people and a freewheeling air transport system in which a dozen local airlines fly from chaotic airports, where crowds fight over seats in planes.

Abilola Oloko, spokesman for Oyo state, where the Bellview Airlines jet went down, initially reported that more than half those on the plane had survived. But he reversed himself a few hours later, blaming chaos at the crash scene for conflicting reports.

There also was confusion about the crash site.

Officials first said the pilots issued a distress call before the plane disappeared from radar while over the Atlantic Ocean about 15 miles west of Lagos and that helicopters were searching the sea for wreckage.

A police spokesman later reported that search teams located the crashed craft far inland, near Kishi, 120 miles north of Lagos. But Red Cross officials said later that the wreck was found in a wooded area near Lissa, a small town 30 miles north of Lagos.

A local TV station, Africa Independent Television, broadcast video of the aircraft. The sky-blue streaked logo of Bellview Airlines could be seen on the shattered tail. No rescue workers were visible in the footage.

There was no indication of what caused the crash, but it was not thought to be related to terrorists.

“The weather was not too bad, but there was lightning, and an airplane struck by lightning could lose total control,” Mr. Onyeyiri said.

He said investigators were searching for the plane’s flight data recorders.

The plane was headed to the capital, Abuja, on what was supposed to have been a 50-minute flight from Lagos, the country’s business and financial center.

The route is frequented by Nigerian officials and foreign executives and diplomats, and as news of the crash got out, representatives of many countries gathered at the Lagos airport to check whether any of their citizens were on board.

Most on the plane were thought to be Nigerians. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said one American was aboard, but declined to release the victim’s name.

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