By Eghosa Idufueko
ON the morning of November 29, 1983, thirty-eight years ago, a 79-seater twin engine Fokker F28 Mk2000 jet belonging to Nigeria Airways approached Enugu Airport and on that faithful day the Instrument Landing System (ILS) wasn’t working coupled with the fact that it was harmattan season with its dusty haze was reducing visibility.
As the 3-man aircrew (Cockpit crew today) of the aircraft registered 5N-ANF sought the runway, the 66 travelers in the twin-jet prepared for landing, on a routine flight from Lagos.
With most of the letdown already behind, the aircraft was in a slight bank to the right when, according to survivors, there was a marked increase in rate of its descent.
And without warning, the plane hit the ground with a sudden thud, followed by a lifting into the air. It came down again, and was soon speeding through a field of farms, fairly even ground, some waist high grass and very few treesThe undercarriage quickly tore off, starting with the rear right side.
The left wing hit a tree and tore open slightly. Then the left rear mounted engine detached, left in the wake of the speeding hulk.
Presently, the plane came to a stop and one of the three flight crew (Then referred to as flight attendants) quickly opened the left side emergency exit in the passenger cabin. At the front, one of the pilots joined a second flight attendant to force open the right side emergency exit after they found the main entrance door was jammed, to no avail.
The pilot retreated into the cockpit with the right side cabin exit stuck as well, the travelers started exiting through the left emergency exit three people had made it out, then a British expatriate.
During the evacuation, a lady who who was already at the exit turned around only to discover her father was still in the jet, probably in shock and so, she started screaming for him…
A fire was already blowing from the torn engine mount and spreading into the cabin now.
Nobody has really pinpointed what caused it, but what started as a calm line of travelers coming out of the stricken airliner quickly morphed into panic.
The 15 who had made it out stared in disbelief as a passenger or two blocked the sole available exit whence passengers could exit and in the blink of an eye, the fire was now in the cabin and engulfed the remaining 51 of the 66 passengers who set out from Lagos.
The ones in the open could only watch helplessly, they included the lady and her father, but not the flight attendant who had opened the exit door. They were joined by all 3 air crew and at least one or maybe the other two flight attendants, these had all escaped via the cockpit windows.
From newspaper cuttings and TV/radio reports of the following days, this was described as a Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT).
Apparently, the crew descended beneath altitude which was safe for the airfield as they searched for the runway.
The panel of inquiry, headed by Justice Ishola Oluwa didn’t think much of one of Captain Obeng’s defences, which was wind shear, a sudden change in wind direction and speed which could easily turn a routine takeoff or landing into a disaster
The 3rd crew member was spared Oluwa’s stern attitudes, as he was found to not be on duty, It was either he or the pilot in the right seat who screamed “pull up Skipper” moments before the first impact, according to subsequent findings
Capt Obeng died a few years later; the first officer according to unconfirmed reports, succumbed to poor health. It was only the 3rd pilot, listed according to subsequent reports as “supernumerary crew” who went on to have a successful flying career
A Nigeria Airways pilot testified that if said F28 had a Ground Proximity Warning System, its pilots would have discontinued the descent in time to save itThe plane was just eight (8) years old at the time of the crash. This may have been the motivation behind the sales of the airline’s six remaining F28s as well as a presidential F28 in 1985.
This article was researched and contributed by EGHOSA IDUFUEKO who availed NigerianFLIGHTDECK permission to publish so the industry can learn something from its history.