. Why No One Is Saying Anything on Dana and Associated Airline Crashes
While frightening events continue in Nigeria’s aviation industry, there are fears that a code of silence might have been adopted over the last two fatal air crashes that took place in Lagos. Not less than 178 lives were lost as a result of both the Dana Air crash of June 3, 2013 and the Associated Airlines crash that happened on October 4 of the same year.
Sadly, a stoic silence has followed the investigation that trailed both crashes, leading to insinuation that a code of silence has been put in place. Months after results of the preliminary investigation came out, no one has heard anything further, neither has anyone said anything about the report, incidents before and after the crash.
For instance, no one has raised questions on why armed law enforcement agents took it upon themselves to use flogging and other measures to disperse people who made attempts to approach the crash site. No explanations have been given to how the situation degenerated to the extent that people in the crowd hurled stones at law enforcement agents.
No answers have also been provided concerning the long wait for fire service trucks and other emergency services; which led to efforts by people in the neighbourhood to subdue the fire that was sparked by the crash by using buckets and other containers to fetch water.
Till date, nothing has been done about the narrow roads that prevented fire-fighting trucks from neighbouring construction sites to access the crash site. In other words, the same fate could befall victims should a similar accident occur in or around the area.
Typical of the Nigerian situation, panels are normally set up to investigate crashes but after the usual media hype, results of the investigations are usually shrouded in secrecy.
In the case of the Dana crash, a joint Senate and House of Reps panel was set up to conduct the investigation while the Accident Investigation Bureau, the body originally saddled with the responsibility of looking into such cases also carried out investigations.
The Cockpit Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder were handed over to the Accident Investigation Bureau upon recovery. Findings however revealed that the investigation met a brick wall even before it started. What was recovered as wreckage of the plane for investigation was not more than 15% of the whole aircraft as the bulk of it had been damaged by the post crash fire. The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) too was found to have become incapable of yielding any information as a result of the post crash fire which damaged it severely. About 30 minutes of cockpit voice recording was however recovered and that formed the crux of the report.
In the recording, the captain was heard reporting engine warning signs and a twin engine failure as the plane approached and landing gear and flaps were extending.
By the time the Accident Investigation Bureau released its first report, there was no conclusion regarding the cause of the incident. The report contained more of technological data than anything else. Information concerning flight schedule, altitude of the flight, geographical circumstance of the spot of crash, flight crew and last conversation of the pilots regarding the sudden loss of both engines and failure of throttles all formed part of the report.
According to the AIB, visual examination of the wreckage of the aircraft, review of maintenance records as well as the documentation of the training and experience of the flight crew were all considered in the course of the investigation. The reconstruction of the plane’s fuelling was also done while samples of fuel were collected.
In the AIB report, it was revealed that the aircraft was on its fourth flight segment of the day when it crashed, having done two round trips between Lagos and Abuja. The accident occurred on the return leg of the second trip.
With the data gathered from the cockpit recorder, it was indicated in the AIB report that about 30 minutes before the crash, the captain and first officer were in a discussion of a non- normal condition regarding the correlation between the engine throttle setting and an engine power indication.
However, they did not voice concerns then that the condition would affect the continuation of the flight. The flight crew continued to monitor the condition and became increasingly concerned as the flight transition through the initial descent from cruise altitude and the subsequent approach phase. DAN 992 reported passing through 18,100 and 7,700 ft, respectively, within a matter of 10 minutes. After receiving a series of heading and altitude assignments from the controller, DAN 992 was issued the final heading to intercept the final approach course for runway 18R.
It was contained in the report that “during the period of 15: 37 Hrs and 15:41 the flight crew engaged in pre-landing tasks including deployment of the slats, and extension of the flaps and landing gear.
At 15:41:16 the first officer (FO) inquired, “both engines coming up?” and the captain (Capt) replied “negative.”
Though the investigation is said to be a continuous process with the sole aim of preventing accidents, not much has been heard after the preliminary results. Till date, what caused the failure of the two engines has neither been found nor disclosed.
The situation is somewhat similar for the ill-fated Associated Airlines plane that crashed in October, 2013 in Lagos. The main difference being that while the Dana crash occurred as the aircraft approached the runway, the Associated aircraft crashed shortly after take-off.
All the AIB has been able to come up with after preliminary investigation was that the crash that claimed 15 lives might have been caused by a malfunctioning engine.
The AIB also stated that the crash might also be due in part to the indecision of the crew on whether to abort the flight or not. Investigations revealed that the pilot was urged to abort the flight by the First Officer when it was evident that the plane’s right engine had developed a problem.
AIB’s report also drew an inference that the aircraft might have had technical problems before the flight as it had not made any flight for 33 days before the last flight that proved fatal. Before the October 3 crash, the last time the plane flew was on August 30, 2013. From the Cockpit Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder, the data gathered ruled out bad weather or fire as being responsible for the crash. The cause could therefore be narrowed to technical faults.
Till date, causes of the crashes have not been specified while attention of the aviation industry has since shifted to other matters. Though the reports of the investigations conducted often indicate that they were carried out to prevent future accidents and incidents, it is evident that lately, the troubles of the Minister of Aviation have overshadowed concerns for the safety of lives. First it was the bullet proof vehicle issue, that has however been put aside to attend to certificate forgery allegations thus distracting the whole industry from seeing the rot that has taken over air travel in the country.
Quite unlike the practice in advanced countries, reports are closely followed up by authorities to ensure that the right measures are put in place to forestall future occurrences, in Nigeria; most times the process ends up at the submission of report stage. For instance, technical hitches are still common in the country’s aviation industry. There have been several near crashes since the October 3 crash while several flights have had to be aborted due to “technical reasons”.
Street Journal’s findings within the aviation industry have revealed that the investigations may not be more than mere formality in many cases. A source disclosed to Street Journal that Dana’s licence got revoked not because of the June 3 crash but because of another incident that could also have turned fatal in Port Harcourt shortly after the crash. The source disclosed that “investigation is still ongoing and recertification of the airline is underway while measures are being taken to ensure that such things don’t happen again. It must however be said that investigations in Nigeria is usually a way of buying time. With time, everyone will forget and things will go on as if nothing happened.”
After reports are submitted in Nigeria, such cases are often closed with no one saying anything again. The saddening aspect is that at times public funds are often wasted in the conduct of such investigations, the report of which never get to see the light of the day. Following the investigations by the legislators on the Dana crash, Nigerians are still waiting for the day the report will be implemented and decisions will be taken to make things better in the aviation sector.