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Rescue workers search for bodies after a plane crash in Lagos, Nigeria (AP)

Rescue workers search for bodies after a plane crash in Lagos, Nigeria (AP)

Onlookers stand on the tail wing of a crashed passenger plane near Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria (AP)

Onlookers stand on the tail wing of a crashed passenger plane near Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria (AP)

Rescue workers search for bodies after a plane crash in Lagos, Nigeria (AP)

Emergency workers in Nigeria have fought fires and searched for bodies through the night after an airliner crashed, killing all 153 on board.

Rescue officials fear many people may have been killed on the ground too.

After pilots reported engine trouble, the Boeing MD-83 of Dana Air crashed into businesses and crowded apartment buildings near Lagos' Murtala Muhammed International Airport on Sunday, the worst air disaster in Nigeria in nearly two decades.

"The fear is that since it happened in a residential area, there may have been many people killed," said Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency.

The cause of the crash remained unclear today. The pilots radioed to the Lagos control tower just before the crash, reporting engine trouble, a military official said.

Rescue workers searched for the aircraft's black box recorders where flight data is stored, said Harold Demuren, the director-general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.

The aircraft appeared to have landed on its belly amid clear, sunny skies on to the dense neighbourhood that sits along the typical approach path taken by aircraft heading into Lagos' Murtala Muhammed International Airport.

The plane tore through roofs, sheared a mango tree and rammed into a woodworking studio, a printing press and at least two apartment buildings before stopping. The plane was heading to Lagos from Abuja, the capital, when it went down.

A white, noxious cloud rose from the crash site that burned onlookers' eyes. Pieces of the plane were scattered around the muddy ground.

The dead included at least four Chinese citizens and two Lebanese, it was reported.

PA