Dana Air crash: Issues unresolved one year after

A cenotaph will be unveiled in Lagos on Monday.

Less than 24 hours to the unveiling ceremony, labourers and supervisors work at a frenzied pace under the light showers to put ‘finishing’ touches to the cenotaph at the site of last year’s Dana Air mishap.

The cenotaph, billed to be unveiled on June 3 by the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, would commemorate the one year anniversary of the horrific air disaster in which a Dana MD-83 crashed into a building at the crowded suburb of Iju-Ishaga, killing all 153 people on board.

About 10 people on the ground also lost their lives as the Lagos bound aircraft, from Abuja, crashed into a two storey building.

Though the cenotaph is yet to be completed, and the interlocking tiles on the grounds of the crash site, which has now been fenced, is still halfway from completion; a Lagos State Government official at the site said that the structure would be ready before Monday’s event.

“Everything will be ready before tomorrow(Monday), even if they (labourers) have to work all night. The rain hasn’t help matters,” said the official who didn’t want to be named and declined an interview because “he’s too busy to talk.”

Coroner’s Inquest

Days after the air mishap, a coroner’s inquest was initiated to ascertain the causes of the accident as well as offer recommendations.

The inquest, which has entered its final stages, among other things, exposed the unpreparedness of Nigeria’s emergency response agencies.

Testifying at the inquest, John Ojikutu, an aviation consultant, faulted the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, for activating its emergency response after the aircraft crashed, rather than when it found out that something was wrong.

NAMA had submitted a transcript of the conversation between the pilot and the Lagos Air Traffic Controller as well as the voice recording between the pilots during the ill-fated flight.

The Dana aircraft was airborne at 2:58 p.m. and estimated to arrive at Lagos by 3:45 p.m., according to the preliminary report released by the Accident Investigation Bureau.

“The agency responsible for that flight, NAMA, which was supposed to give us 45 minutes of that flight only gave us 13 minutes. What happened to the remaining 32 minutes?” asked Mr. Ojikutu, a retired Group Captain.

“It is not when an aircraft crashes that you activate emergency. Emergency starts from the moment you notice that something is wrong with the operation of the aircraft. We didn’t see it here until the distress period,” Mr. Ojikutu added.

During the earlier sitting of the inquest, issues of emergency response by the relevant agencies were at the front burner.

Fire officers from the Lagos State Fire Service, who were one of the first agencies to respond to the distress call, according to Dauda Olaogun, a fire officer testifying at the inquest, arrived the crash scene at 4:10 p.m., about 20 minutes after the crash.

“We were there 30 minutes before Julius Berger arrived,” Mr. Olaogun had added.

Testimonies at the inquest by Mr. Olaogun and other emergency response agencies like the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency, LASTMA; the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, among others shed light on the uncoordinated and haphazard operations of the nation’s emergency rescue agencies.

The National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, blamed the poor rescue efforts on crowd control at the accident site.

“Another clog in the wheel was co-ordination of the various stakeholders. Regular joint simulation exercises and informal meeting between members of various organisations will engender more effective collaboration in future operations,” the agency stated.

Akin Jimoh, Program Director at
Development Communications Network, noted that emergency response issues before the Dana Air crash are yet to be tackled one year after the incident.

“If we have a plane crash tomorrow, we are still going to be faced with the same situation of last year,” Mr. Jimoh told PREMIUM TIMES.

“People will still lose their lives unnecessarily,” he added.

Compensation Battle

One year after the crash, some families and relatives of the victims of the crash continue to battle Dana Air for compensation.

At a press conference of March 28, the airline stated that payment of compensation to victims’ families had been bogged down due to multiple court cases filed by the families against Dana Air.

Tony Usidamen, the airline’s Spokesperson, said that 95 of the 125 families who completed claims forms had received the $30,000 (N4.5 million) interim compensation while 11 had gotten the full compensation of $100,000 (N15 million).

“The airline has not abandoned any of the bereaved families,” said Mr. Usidamen.

“About 21 more families whose grant of probate has just come through will receive full payment shortly upon execution of release.

“But for the 65 others who have taken the airline to court, they can’t get anything until all legal issues are sorted out,” Mr. Usidamen added.

Stella Oduah, the Aviation Minister, echoed Dana Air’s position, noting that the “legal tussle and lack of proper documentation” by families have delayed the payment of compensation.

Section 48(3) of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act provides that “in any case of aircraft accident resulting in death or injury to passengers, the carrier shall make advance payments of, at least, US$30,000 within 30 days from the date of such accident, to the natural person or such natural persons who are entitled to claim compensation in order to meet the immediate needs of such persons and such advance payments shall not constitute recognition of liability and may be offset against any amounts subsequently paid as damages by the carrier.”

At a press conference last November, five months after the plane crash, some victims’ families said that Dana Air’s “deceit” in payment of compensation claims is “painful.”

Four families said that they got half of the stipulated US$30,000, with the airline asking them to prove that they deserve more than US$15,000, and that babies ought not to be paid anything because they don’t have income and dependants.

Also, a family who lost several family members said that Dana Air’s management wrote to them proposing an interim payment of US$30,000 “for their entire loss.”

In an e-mail response to PREMIUM TIMES, Bunmi Awoyemi, who represents 40 victims of the accident, stated that those issues remain largely unresolved.

14 people have received the interim payment while 26 remain unpaid, according to Mr. Awoyemi.

“The airline and its representatives have come up with a number of excuses as the reason why they have not paid this mandatory US$30,000. These excuses include insufficient documentation, multiple claims, and multiple representations,” Mr. Awoyemi, a New York admitted attorney, said.

On the issue of insufficient documentation, Mr. Awoyemi said that one of his clients submitted the required documentation in November last and did not receive payment until the first week of May.

“The payment was put on hold for no justifiable reason,” Mr. Awoyemi added.

Mr. Awoyemi said that a particular family that got paid recently had their payment withheld on the grounds of multiple claims even though key members of the family had jointly requested for compensation.

“The key members are the father and husband of (the) deceased family member who also double as grandfather and father to another very young deceased family member.

“This family had to resubmit documents they already had twice and insisted that all the siblings and all the aunties of the deceaseds as well as the mother and grandmother of the deceased had to sign the compensation forms,” said Mr. Awoyemi.

Mr. Awoyemi accused Dana Air management of refusing to make interim payments to four of his clients who are ground victims of the crash.

“Dana Airline denied that they died on the ground even though they admit that 10 people died on the ground,” Mr. Awoyemi said.

“The local lawyer of these four ground victims, Barrister Gbenga Eguntola, has made frantic efforts to get the interim payments for them to no avail even though he has submitted a laundry list of documents to prove these clients died on the ground.”

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