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Nigerian airliner crashes after take-off

A Nigerian airliner with 117 people on board crashed shortly after taking off from Lagos en route to the capital Abuja.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Officials reported finding no signs of life Sunday when they reached the site where a passenger jet carrying 117 people crashed shortly after taking off from Nigeria’s largest city.

“There are no signs of survivors. It appears all 117 passengers and crew are dead, according to the Nigerian Red Cross,” said Eva Calvo, spokeswoman for the international Red Cross in Geneva.

Abilola Oloko, spokesman for Oyo state, where the plane crashed, also said reports “say that all the people on the plane died.” He initially had said more than half those on board survived but reversed himself later, blaming confusion at the crash scene for conflicting reports.

There also was early confusion about where the Boeing 737 operated by Nigerian-owned Bellview Airlines went down late Saturday.

Officials first said the pilots issued a distress call before the plane disappeared from radar while over the Atlantic Ocean about 15 miles west of Lagos. A police spokesman later said the craft crashed near Kishi, 120 miles north of Lagos.

But the wreckage was later found in a wooded area near Lissa, a small town 30 miles north of Lagos.

The Boeing 737, which was en route to the capital, Abuja, lost contact with the control tower five minutes after taking off from the international airport in Lagos at 8:45 p.m. Saturday, said Jide Ibinola, a spokesman for the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria.

The flight is popular among Nigerians and expatriates shuttling between the two cities.

President Olusegun Obasanjo — grieving for his wife, Stella, who died early Sunday in Spain — was personally overseeing search and rescue operations and asked “all Nigerians to pray for all those aboard the plane and their families,” his office said in a statement.

Representatives of many countries gathered at the airport to find out if any of their citizens were on board the flight.

The airline said 117 people were on board — 111 passengers and six crew members — but gave no more details.

Ibinola said the craft was headed to Abuja, on what was supposed to have been a 50-minute flight. There was no immediate indication the crash was terrorism-related.

The privately owned Bellview, one of about a dozen Nigerian airlines, operates a fleet of mostly Boeing 737s on internal routes and throughout West Africa. It began flying about 10 years ago and had not suffered a crash before.

Many consider Bellview to be among the most-reliable airlines shuttling between Nigeria’s often-chaotic regional airports, which can resemble bus depots where crowds battle for seats on planes.

In May 2002, an EAS Airlines jet — another domestic carrier — plowed into a heavily populated neighborhood after takeoff at the airport outside the northern city of Kano, killing 154 people in the plane and on the ground.