Nigerian union says talk of pilot error in jet crash premature

Tuesday, October 31st 2006, 6:31 pm
By: News On 6

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) A union representing Nigerian aircraft pilots said Tuesday that until an investigation is complete it is premature to blame pilot error for crash outside the capital that killed 96 people.

The Boeing 737 operated by Nigeria's Aviation Development Co. crashed with 105 people on board during takeoff from Abuja airport on Sunday. Among the dead was the pilot and Nigeria's top Muslim leader, Muhammadu Maccido.

It was the country's third high-casualty air disaster in a year.

The cause of the crash has yet to be determined. But on Monday, Aviation Minister Babalola Borishade said it might have been avoided if the pilot had taken air traffic control advice to wait for a thunderstorm near the airport to clear before taking off.

A team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is due in Nigeria on Tuesday night to help with the investigation, said Angus Ozoka, who heads Nigeria's Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau.

The team will be joined by investigators from aircraft manufacturer Boeing and engine maker Pratt and Whitney, Ozoka said.

The National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers said in a statement Tuesday that Borishade's comments were premature.

``We request that the minister refrains from making further comments of blame to allow for an unbiased investigation into the crash,'' union leader Sani Mustapha said.

The plane had run into bad weather that included rain, gusty winds, thunder and lightening, Borishade said. Two other airlines with planes taxiing at about the same time, Virgin Nigeria and Aero Contractors, waited and were able to take off safely later, he said.

The minister said the authorities will review the discretionary powers given to pilots to override advice from the control tower, which he blamed for many aviation accidents in the country.

With the latest crash, fatalities from air disasters in Nigeria have reached 320 in one year.

On October 22, 2005, a Boeing 737-200 plane belonging to Bellview airlines crashed soon after takeoff from the country's main city of Lagos, killing all 117 people aboard. Seven weeks later on December 10th, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 plane belonging to Sosoliso Airlines crashed while approaching the city of Port Harcourt, killing 107 people, most of them school children going home for Christmas.