Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Air Disasters: Nigeria holds top spot

Following the December 10, 2005 crash of a Sosoliso Airlines plane near Port-Harcourt, Nigeria, many Nigerians have been numb with grief. They have been too shocked to express in words exactly how they feel. More disturbing however has been the fact that the few who have been able to speak make comments that suggest it is the fault of Nigeria as a country, or the fault of the Nigerian leadership, if the government there could be called that, that a crash like this occured. With obvious references to the poor maintenance culture in Nigeria where air travel is quick beginning to sound like a suicide mission; the aeroplanes are reportedly much too old, and with the hugely advertised corruption in the country, aircraft that are not air-worthy could very well be allowed to fly.

This is why many Nigerians are angry, and are not willing to accept this latest crash as an accident. There has even been the far-fetched thoughts expressed that Obasanjo is sacrificing these people in exchange or partial fulfilment of his evil dues to Satan to ensure a third term in office. Never an Obasanjo person, even I think those thoughts have not been well expressed, but grief does such things to people and somebody has got to be blamed. On instinct, I wanted to see if Nigeria indeed had more crashes than every other country with an airline.

A quick ‘2005 air crashes’ search on Google led me to www.planecrashinfo.com where I was able to obtain information on air crashes worldwide between September 5, and December 10, 2005. I wrote down all the crashes and the number of fatalities, and worked out the statistics for myself.

In all there were 15 air crashes in the period. A total of 521 people perished in those crashes - an average of 34.73 people per crash. Looking at the individual crashes however, the worst disaster of all was in Medan, Indonesia on September 5, where a Boeing 737 carrying 117 people crashed killing 99 on board and a further 44 people on the ground thereby clocking up a total death toll of 143. The second worst crash was the Bellview Airlines Boeing 737 crash of October 22 near Lagos, Nigeria which cleaned up all 117 passengers. That horrible Nigerian crash is closely followed in the third place by the December 6 Lockheed C130B Hercules crash in Tehran, Iran, which killed 94 passengers and a further 14 on the ground, a total of 108. And worthy of special mention of course is the Sosoliso Airlines crash - a McDonnell Dc-9-32, which claimed 103 people, 75 of them school children.

Incredibly, although crashes in Nigeria only account for just over 13% of the crashes recorded in the period, Nigeria claims the trophy for the most deaths with a total of 220 in the two crashes, a whopping 42.23% chunk of the 521 dead in the period September 5 to December 10, 2005. What can one say to Nigeria, congratulations or condolences?

Interestingly, of all 15 crashes, there were only five commercial airliners. The rest are either privately-owned planes or small cargo flights. The December 8 Boeing 737 crash in Chicago, Illinois, had no passenger fatality at all, although it managed to kill somebody on the ground. I hit at this point just because of the points raised about maintenance of planes in Nigeria. I should imagine that the owners of the private jets would maintain them well. Maybe I am wrong but I still want to see this latest Sosoliso crash and the Bellview one before it as accidents. Accidents do happen. This will not console anyone, I know. I have personally not yet been consoled over the death of my uterine sibling in a bus crash at Ijebu-Igbo in 1982, therefore I understand how the bereaved must be feeling now and how they will still be feeling 20 years from now.

I recall with shame today, the anger I felt when I learnt the driver of the bus that killed my brother had survived the crash, and how I thought of ways to go to Ibadan and kill him. But years have passed and I have come to accept that perhaps it was the way his God wanted it, and I am thankful that I did not dwell on those murderous thoughts and did not harm the poor man who is perhaps still seeing ghosts of people he probably believes his reckless driving killed. I hope he has grown to see it was just an accident.

What I would ask the bereaved today is to say what my mother kept muttering after she learned her son had died just one month after the death of her husband, “God, please do not allow me utter a word of blasphemy.” May God be the consoler of all those who have lost their loved ones. Nothing we can say as human beings can heal them now, all we can do is cover them with prayers. Besides, I have just been reading and hearing all sorts of good things about Pastor Bimbo Odukoya who also returned to the Almighty through that Sosoliso crash, and I suddenly feel that it was not by accident she was on that flight. I didn't know the woman in life. Never even heard her preach once as far as I know, but if she was truly as good a human being and with God as the reports purport, then she might have been there especially for the children, to care for them, to make sure they are not afraid, to help them understand what just happened to them, and to lead them into the greater light of God.

Nnorom Azuonye
December 13, 2005

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