Sunday Alamba  /  AP
Family members who lost relatives in a plane crash wait to identified their bodies at the Lagos state university teaching hospital in Lagos, Nigeria.
updated 6/5/2012 4:53:44 PM ET 2012-06-05T20:53:44

Mourners silently walked between rows of the dead from a plane crash in Nigeria that killed the 153 people aboard the airliner and others on the ground, peering into burned faces in hopes of claiming the remains of their loved ones on Tuesday.

Those in grief passed by more than a dozen bodies able to be recognized by sight alone in a Lagos hospital parking lot. Onlookers wore surgical masks to block out the smell. As family members softly wept and held each other, Nigeria's government announced Tuesday it has indefinitely suspended Dana Air's license, grounding the carrier that operated the MD-83 airplane that crashed in the country's largest city and now faces widespread public anger.

"We are without eyes," said Jennifer Enanana, as she sobbed in the parking lot over the death of her younger brother in the crash. She had lost another brother within the year. "We don't have anybody that will protect us that can stand like a man and defend us. Dana stole him."

The MD-83 went down in Lagos' Iju-Ishaga neighborhood, about nine kilometers (five miles) from Lagos' Murtala Muhammed International Airport. The area has grown dramatically over the decades since British colonialists first established an airstrip there, as Lagos surges toward becoming the largest city in Africa.

Image: This photo taken on June 5, 2012, shows
Emmanuel Arewa  /  AFP - Getty Images
This photo taken on June 5, 2012, shows members of a rescue team carrying the body of a victim of a Dana Air plane crash that occurred on June 4 in Lagos, Nigeria.

That population pressure has seen homes, business and industrial sites shoot up along the approach route used by aircraft landing at the airport, changing what used to be forests and wetlands into a sprawling megacity. The development has put the population there at risk with many aviation disasters in Nigeria over the last two decades. Emergency workers fear a number of on-the-ground deaths from Sunday's crash that saw the aircraft slam into two apartment buildings, a printing press and a woodworking shop.

Engine problems eyed after passenger jet crashes in Nigeria suburb

By midday Tuesday, searchers had recovered 150 bodies, according to Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency. It's not yet known how many people died on the ground. Emergency workers were still looking through the debris for bodies, and one damaged building seemed on the verge of collapse.

Fearful family members who once crowded the neighborhood arrived Tuesday to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, where authorities had placed the 43 identifiable bodies so far collected from the crash.

Professor David Oke, the chief medical director of the hospital, told the dozens of relatives and diplomats gathered there that at least 29 had already been identified, including the corpses of a Chinese citizen and a Canadian.

Federal and state authorities have discussed using DNA testing to identify other bodies, though that likely would require massive assistance from laboratories outside of the country.

153 people feared dead in Nigerian plane crash

"We are aware there are more coming in and there are some bodies in our other hospital ... that are really burnt beyond recognition and may eventually need more forensic assessment," Oke said.

Outside the hospital, Ugonna Nwoka said his uncle had been aboard the Dana Air flight that went down in a congested neighborhood on Sunday, turning much of it to rubble. The uncle, who worked for the country's aviation ministry, suddenly needed to travel to Lagos and picked the Dana flight, Nwoka said.

Nwoka said he tried to go to the crash site on Monday but was pushed away by security forces.

"We stayed for hours trying to plead to see what happened," Nwoka said. Asked why he needed to see the crash site, Nwoka said if he didn't it would be "all like a dream, like a drama, like it's not real."

Popular anger has risen in the country against the airline since the crash. On Tuesday, the Nigerian government indefinitely suspended Dana Air's license to fly in Africa's most population nation, said Joe Obi, a spokesman for the country's aviation ministry. Obi said officials took the action as a safety precaution.

PhotoBlog: Smoldering scene in Lagos, Nigeria after plane crash

Officials with Dana Air could not be immediately reached for comment. A statement posted to the company's website described the airline as "professionally managed," saying the flight's captain had logged 18,500 flight hours, with 7,100 hours on an MD-83.

Dana Air said the plane that crashed had its last safety inspection on May 30 and was certified to fly by Nigerian regulators. However, oversight remains lax in oil-rich Nigeria, whose government remains hobbled by mismanagement and corruption.

The cause of the crash on a sunny, clear Sunday afternoon remains unclear. The crew radioed the tower that they had engine trouble shortly before the plane went down.

Late Monday, emergency workers recovered both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, said Tunji Oketunbi, a spokesman for the Accident Investigation Bureau, which probes airplane crashes in Nigeria.

"We will take them abroad for decoding and that will help our analysis," Oketunbi said Tuesday. "We will know what happened to the aircraft shortly before it crashed."

An investigator from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board also was expected to join Nigerian authorities on Tuesday to help them determine a cause for the crash, Oketunbi said.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that seven American citizens were killed in the crash. Some, he said, were dual U.S.-Nigerian citizens, but he could not provide more details. He said the notification of next of kin is ongoing.

A woman from West Hartford, Conn., her husband and four young children died on board the flight. Neighbors identified the family as Maimuna Anyene, her Nigerian husband Onyeke, and their children, a 5 month old, 1-year-old twins and a 3 year old.

Americans Josephine Onita and Jennifer Onita of Missouri City, Texas also were killed in the crash, their sister said. She said her sisters were heading to Lagos to attend a wedding.

Others killed in the crash included at least four Chinese citizens, two Lebanese nationals and one French citizen, officials have said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Plane crashes in Nigeria

  1. Transcript of: Plane crashes in Nigeria

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: We begin here tonight with a still developing story out of Lagos , Nigeria , where an American-built MD-83 jetliner has crashed into an apartment building. All of the roughly 150 people on board the jet are believed dead. The Dana Airline 's plane was on landing approach when it came down into a densely populated section of the city. Tonight, rescuers are still trying to account for potential victims on the ground. The plane had earlier left Nigeria 's capital, Abuja , for the 70-minute long flight to Lagos . NBC 's Rohit Kachroo is monitoring developments from Johannesburg tonight.

    ROHIT KACHROO reporting: Moments from touchdown, the aircraft crashed into a residential area. The weather was good when the plane appeared to land on to a two-story building in the suburb of Lagos , striking a store and apartments.

    Unidentified Woman: My children were outside playing ball. We asked them to look up because the plane was about to land on top of my head. And the minute it passed, it bend, it was going down.

    KACHROO: It was late afternoon. Many people were in their homes when the passenger jet fell from the sky. Thousands poured outside trying to find survivors in the burnt wreckage.

    Mr. JON GAMBRELL (Associated Press Chief Correspondent in Nigeria): The tail fin is clearly sticking up. You could still see the painting from the Dana Airline Company on the tandem side of the wreckage. But then from there up basically the cabin of the plane had been destroyed and reduced to rubble.

    KACHROO: Government officials say that all passengers and crew, around 150 people, are feared dead, with more likely casualties on the ground. Nigeria has a poor air safety record. Investigators are already trying to find out what caused a cargo plane from Lagos to crash in nearby Ghana just yesterday killing 10 people. Now a new investigation into another major air disaster, the cause as yet unknown. Well, emergency crews are still searching tonight, still hoping for some survivors, some good news as Nigeria enters three days of national mourning.

    Lester: Rohit Kachroo tonight in Johannesburg , thank you.



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