Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Records show airline safety scandal

Documents on three deadly plane crashes in Nigeria - including one in which a jet carrying children going home for Christmas burst into flames - offer a harrowing look at the loosely-enforced safety regulations and oversight in Africa's most populous nation.

The records, obtained by The Associated Press, show that the captain of another Nigerian flight that crashed had gone back to work as a pilot despite being shot in the head years before. And in another case, a pilots' manual included blank pages instead of key safety information.

Nigeria's government has long declined to release formal records surrounding three fatal crashes in 2005-2006 including the one that killed scores of children.

While none of the airlines involved in the three crashes still flies in Nigeria, the safety concerns come after the West African nation gained a coveted US safety status last year that allows its domestic carriers to fly directly to America.

AP requested the documents about the crashes through a Freedom of Information Act request from the US Federal Aviation Administration. The US became involved in those inquiries because the planes were manufactured by US companies and because Nigeria requested the help of American investigators.

Although officials now say air travel is much safer, the documents add to worries about flights in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people where corruption and incompetence often dominate government and where the demand for air travel has spiked over the last five years.

A report on the October 22 2005 crash of a Bellview Airlines flight that killed 177 people, including a US citizen, showed the plane nosedived into the ground at high speed. Investigators reportedly found only human remains that were "nothing bigger than toes and fingers", the report read.

The plane's captain, a 49-year-old former pilot, had been hired by Bellview after he had been working at a dairy for about 14 years, the summary read. The pilot had also been "shot in the head during a robbery attempt" during that break from flying.

"Interestingly, the Nigerian ... medical records do not contain any medical or hospitalisation history of this event," the report said. The unnamed author wrote that investigators would follow up on that detail, though no other documents released by the FAA refer to it again.

Harold Demuren, director general of Nigeria's aviation authority, said officials had worked to ensure safety regulations were followed. "Nigeria had a really woeful accident record and those were the results. However, you must add to it that things have improved tremendously since then," he said.

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