A “mysterious” aircraft videoed by security cameras as flying at least four times over the Lagos Synagogue Church building shortly before the structure collapsed killing more than 115 people in September, may have been a Nigerian Airforce jet, a coroner’s court heard Thursday.
The founder of the mega pentecostal church, TB Joshua blamed the airplane for the collapse of the building, saying the church was targeted by terrorists.
The Lagos State government says the building was a violation of its regulations as its additional three floors was never approved by the government.
The building collapsed September 12 killing mostly South African nationals.
While testifying at the ongoing coroner’s inquest into the circumstances surrounding the collapse, Toyin Ayinde, the Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, disclosed that his ministry enquired from the aviation authorities about the identity of the aircraft.
Three days after the building collapse, Mr. Ayinde said officials from his ministry were sent to the church to check the coordinates of the site.
Afterwards, a copy of the coordinates and the CCTV footage of the incident was sent to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.
The ministry also attached a three point question that sought to know the identity of the aircraft seen in the video, its altitude, and its flight path coordinates.
“The NCAA responded that there was a request by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) that they might conduct some rehearsals on that day,” said Mr. Ayinde.
The commissioner stated that their calculations determined that the NAF aircrafts would be flying at altitudes of about 1,100 feet above sea level – the equivalent of 109 floors above a building.
“We also discovered that the minimum distance the aircraft would be from the building was about 137 metres, equivalent to one and half-length of a standard football field,” said Mr. Ayinde.
In the CCTV footage released by the church after the incident, an aircraft was seen flying over the building on the morning of September 12. On four occasions, an aircraft flew over the building, and minutes later, the entire structure crumbled.
T.B Joshua, the church’s founder, had blamed the “strange plane hovering above the building” for the collapse.
During Thursday’s proceedings, the CCTV footage was replayed in court.
A still image of an aircraft flying close to the building, taken with a mobile phone by a member of the church, was also displayed.
Mr. Ayinde said he could not tell if it was the same aircraft that flew over the building four times. And the letter from NCAA did not specifically identify the aircraft in the CCTV footage.
“I didn’t see a hovering of an aircraft, I saw aircraft but not hovering. There is a uniform directional movement and it is understandable because that area is close to the airport,” said Mr. Ayinde, adding that the display in court was the second time he was watching the footage.
“I cannot confirm that it is the same aircraft, it could be four different aircrafts moving in the same pattern. I did not see that the aircraft move remarkably close to the collapsed building.”
During cross examination by Olalekan Ojo, the church’s lawyer, Mr. Ayinde said he could not tell if the aircraft was flying below the estimated altitude.
Mr. Ojo said that residents of Ikotun, the area where the church is situated, had lodged a complaint at their local police station about aircrafts flying at “very low levels” before the September 12 incident.
“When they say an aircraft cannot fly below a particular altitude, it’s just a regulation. It does not mean that it cannot actually fly below that altitude,” the lawyer insisted.
Mr. Ayinde said he could not determine the distance of the aircraft seen in the video from the building, and that the position of the CCTV needs to be ascertained.
“In my profession, there is what is called proportion. When you look at where that aircraft is, in terms of proportion, it is not that size of the aircraft you’ll be seeing.”
Thursday’s proceedings lasted almost five hours, with the coroner granting the SCOAN counsel’s request for a 15 minute recess midway into the sitting to enable him consult with the church members.
When the inquest reconvened, Mr. Ojo informed the court that the church member who took the still photo of the aircraft above the building was in court.
But Mr. Ayinde said he disagreed with the photo, noting that there was no date and time on it.
“If someone is standing at Ground Zero, there is no how what you’ll see is only the top floor (of the building) and the aircraft,” he said.
The coroner’s inquest continues on November 5.