- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

ABUJA, Nigeria — A passenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff from the capital, Abuja, yesterday, killing 99 persons, including the leader of the nation’s 70 million Muslims.

Officials said 106 persons were on board the Boeing 737 flight to the northern city of Sokoto when it plowed into a cornfield about a mile from the runway. Seven persons survived the crash, Nigeria’s third major aviation disaster in just over a year.

Only the plane’s tail, an engine and part of a wing were recognizable at the crash site, an area the size of a football field littered with body parts, smoldering fires and shreds of clothing, bags and metal.

Among the dead was Ibrahim Muhammadu, who as sultan of Sokoto was the leader of the Muslim community, which makes up about half of Africa’s most-populous nation.

“The plane crash that happened in Abuja led to the death of our beloved sultan … among about 100 people,” the governor of Sokoto state, Attahiru Bafarawa, told reporters.

The late news bulletin on state television showed images of the sultan’s coffin being buried in Sokoto by a crowd of men in white robes. His son, a senator, also died in the crash.

The Sokoto governor declared six days of mourning for the sultan, who was also the top traditional ruler of northern Nigeria. A respected figure, he helped to curb religious bloodshed in the central state of Plateau in 2004.

The director of Abuja’s National Hospital, speaking on state television, said seven survivors had been brought in, of whom six were in a stable condition and one was in intensive care.

The minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir el-Rufai, said the crash took place in bad weather, but that only a detailed investigation could determine the accident’s cause.

ADC is a popular domestic airline with an aging fleet of Boeing jets.

It was the third major air crash in Nigeria in little more than a year.

On Oct. 22 last year, 117 persons died when a Bellview Airlines Boeing 737 crashed in the countryside shortly after takeoff from the commercial capital, Lagos.

Seven weeks later, a Sosoliso Airlines DC-9 crashed on landing in Port Harcourt, the oil-industry hub in the southeast. The crash killed 106 persons, half of whom were children on their way home from boarding school for the Christmas break.

In addition, 10 army generals and three other military personnel were killed when a small air force plane crashed in central Benue state six weeks ago.

The latest tragedy comes a month before the aviation industry is due to undergo an audit. After last year’s crashes, President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered airlines and aviation authorities to improve safety standards.

Air traffic in Nigeria has more than doubled to more than 8 million passengers a year in the past seven years, but the aging airports and fleets have struggled to cope with the boom.

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