It was rather hot for an afternoon of 85 degrees Fahrenheit, particularly with the clouds so successful in its contest with the sun.
I was sure it was one of those days that these meteorologists tell you the temperature and then add a ‘feels like’ to that temperature.
This sure felt like 95 degrees. But for this damned conference I could swear that nothing could have moved me out of Abuja this day.
The ride to the airport was coloured by my mood; sour. My wife noticed and threw in a few jokes to liven me up. I smiled dryly. I would have appreciated the jokes better in the comfort of our bedroom in Asokoro.
We got to the airport and I kissed her lightly on the cheeks. The aroma of my ‘Obsession for men’ which she insists on using to church every Sunday lingered around my lips. I have never been able to fashion out her obsession for my ‘Obsession’. She has great fragrance perfume of her own.
I concluded a while ago that she could only be trying to get intimately familiar with the fragrance so I would be caught red-handed anything I stepped out of line by hugging some other woman. A tight hug and a pat on her back and I disappeared into the departure hall.
Check-in was quick as I was travelling light. The conference was for two days and the last flight Tuesday should see me back in Abuja. I joined the queue to the departure hall. The scanning machines were not working and the hand check of hand luggage was proceeding slowly. In 10 minutes I was into the departure hall.
I glanced at my wrist watch, it was 30 minutes to departure so the boarding announcement should come anytime from now. I settled down to read some of the conference materials.
‘Handicaps to increased life expectancy in Nigeria’; what a boring topic. Even a secondary school student could speak for a whole day on that. That was what they had dragged me from my haven to Lagos to discuss. Anyway I will show them when I get there tomorrow. By the time I have given them 1000 reasons why life will continue to be short and brutish in Nigeria, they will not invite me again. Thank God for the audience let the ministers come and hear the rot they minister to.
My thoughts were pierced by the announcement. ‘Attention please! This is a boarding announcement on Dana Air Flight 992 to Lagos. All checked-in passengers should please proceed to the aircraft for boarding’. I took out my phone and made a call to my wife. She was somewhere around the Abuja gate. I told her we were ready to board and would give her a call as soon as I arrived Lagos.
She blew me a kiss. ‘You know what honey’, she said, ‘your favourite ikokore dish generously saturated with crayfish will be waiting on Tuesday evening and guess what, something even more delicious than that will also be waiting, so be a good boy’. I laughed and told her my stomach was already churning. As for the other dish, the taste of the pudding would be in the eating. I asked her to tell our son Ruby that I would deal with that troublesome Maths exercise for him when I returned. I grabbed by bag and headed for the aircraft.
Dana Air, the smartest way to fly. So I really must be one of the smartest people in Nigeria if I was flying this airline. The white man in the Captain’s seat in the cockpit looked out of the small window by his side. He had a quick conversation with someone on the ground, made a hand signal and closed his window.
One of my friends had told me the reason he preferred Dana and Aero flights was because of the white pilots they paraded. I feel more confident with these white guys in control than our chaps, they are more disciplined he said. I shrugged him off; white or black did not matter to me. The weather was always my major concern. Even with the best pilots these things can be scary in foul weather.
I settled into seat 22D. I loved aisle seats because of the opportunity to stretch my rather long legs. On 22E and F were a good looking lady and her 18 year old daughter. They were on their way to the United States of America where the young girl was to begin her university education. I paid due compliments to the foresight of the family in sending her to the US. I told Mrs X I was planning the same for my Ruby when he graduates from High School next year.
‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. You are welcome on board our McDonnell Douglas MD83 aircraft operating flight 992 from Abuja to Lagos. Our estimated flight time is 50 minutes and we shall be flying at an altitude of 25,000 feet. This flight shall be taking us to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos. Please pay attention as we take you through safety procedures on this aircraft......’ My mind drifted to the Tuesday evening extravaganza my wife had promised. Great woman, great food..my wife is great in everything. How I will spoil her on her 40th birthday in two years from now. Oh she deserves it and much more.
‘...on behalf of Captain [I didn’t catch his name] and his crew, I welcome you once again on Dana Flight 992 to Lagos. Please sit back and enjoy your flight.’ We were already rolling. A roar from the engines thinned into a whine that helped the aircraft lazily eat up the runway.
The lazy run gathered greater momentum and with a shudder we went into the air. Screeching and whizzing with the retracting of the wheels, the aircraft gained height and I settled to take a quick nap on the trip. But I could not sleep, my thought kept on returning to my family.
Ruby was SS2 and Anita would finish in JS3 in a few weeks. I have great plans for my children. Ruby wants to be an engineer and I am hoping that he will be able to enter into the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. For Anita, the formative years are still ahead and she has not indicated a preference for any career. But if it is the last thing I do, I must give them both sound education.
They must start off well in life. That’s one of the things my wife loves about me, my love for my children.
Did I hear some funny sounds from the engines just now? A drone appeared to have settled on the engines. We were not moving as fast as we were earlier on. Okay, perhaps that is because we have started our descent into Lagos.
The speakers crackled to life; Ladies and gentlemen the Captain has put on the fasting your safety belts sign. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts. Please make sure that your seats are in the upright position. The lavatories are out of bounds from now on. Thank you.’ I snapped out of my family dream and pulled up my seat.
Just then the aircraft went into a deep dive. We were losing height rapidly. I guessed we were coasting home. It was always a relief for me when the descents begin. It means you are heading for familiar territory, the ground. A few minutes and the speakers crackled again to life. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our final descent into Lagos, please ensure that your seat belt is safely fastened and your seat in the upright position’.
The pilot’s buzzer for the cabin crew sounded and a smart lady went into the cockpit. She came out almost white as a ghost. She hurriedly conferred with her colleagues and again the speakers crackled to life. This time it was the Captain speaking. ‘Ladies and gentlemen we are making our final approach to Lagos but we have an emergency on our hands. Nothing serious but the cabin crew will take you through an emergency procedure. Please do not panic everything is under control.’
Just then the plane made a wild lurch and tilted to the right side. It stabilised but was flying like an injured athlete limping home. The cabin crew started issuing emergency instructions but nobody was listening. All hell was let loose. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was not hearing the sound of the engines anymore. The whining had died. Oh my God! Oh my God! The engines have stalled. Screams and prayers drowned out the voice of the cabin crew. Surprisingly I was calm. My thoughts went back to my family. Oh Ruby and Anita, how I love them both.
Unless a miracle happened, I knew that Tuesday evening as promised by my wife was not going to happen. My Tuesday was going to be eternity. By then we were beginning to see houses in Lagos and from the way the aircraft was weaving I knew a crash was imminent. Lord Jesus, I prayed save me for my wife and children; but if I were to die in this crash, Lord please receive my soul.
The words had not totally left my mouth when the collision came. I was floating. Huge balls of fire engulfed the aircraft. I saw people running towards the plane. Whao! We crashed into houses? One, two, three explosions. What has happened to me? Which of my prayers was answered? My thoughts went to my wife, Ruby and Anita. I must let them know that I am okay.
In a flash I was back home at Asokoro. My wife was the only one at home. She was lying on a couch in the living room observing our usual Sunday afternoon siesta. She looked so peaceful and so beautiful. ‘Hey Mandy, wake up. The plane crashed but I am okay. Wake up Mandy, damn it wake up. The plane crashed but I am okay.’ No response. Panic gripped me. Was she dead? Then I knew it was my second prayer that was answered. I was dead. But Mandy also was dead, because her life died that afternoon with me. Nothing would ever be the same again for her. What a way to go.
Not a good panel
The panel that has been put together to investigate the Dana crash and examine the activities of the regulatory agencies appears to be a still birth. At the centre of the investigation is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authourity [NCAA], the body charged with the regulation of the industry.
Fears have been expressed about the laxity of supervision in the industry and this has prompted the Senate of the Federal Republic to call for the Director-General of the agency to step aside during the course of investigation. Not because the D-G has been indicted in any way but to ensure unfettered investigations.
Now a panel has been put in place that is made up largely of persons associated with or interested in the NCAA. The Chairman of the panel is said to be a technical consultant to the NCAA, in charge of airspace, radar surveillance etc. One member is a director of the Federal Ministry of Aviation, another supervisory body. Another member is a former D-G of the NCAA who was sacked in the wake of incessant crashes in the Obasanjo days. One is a former director of the NCAA and another, a former director of the Ministry of Aviation.
Two members are associated with ADC airlines, an airline that folded up after two crashes.
Are these the best and the most impartial that the airline industry can throw up? Or is someone trying to pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians by a select panel to serve an already determined goal? If that is allowed to happen, those who died in that Dana crash would have died in vain.
A prayer unanswered
About five weeks before the crash of Dana Flight 992, the Lord showed me a revelation about a passenger aircraft that crashed into houses with attendant fire. I had no idea where the accident would occur. On Sunday I told the congregation in church about the revelation and the entire church rose up in prayer that day.
Our petition to God was that the event should not stand. That the mercy of God should prevail and rescue those who would have been involved in the accident. I forgot about the matter believing it had been taking care of. The morning after the Dana crash, while reading the reports in newspapers, the spirit of God spoke and said, ‘I told you’.
Then I remembered the revelation. I broke into tears. Why was our prayer not heard? Perhaps we did not pray hard enough. Perhaps we should have fasted as Jesus has said is required to tackle stubborn spiritual problems. I don’t know. But I was weighed down by a feeling that we had let down those who were in that aircraft. They needed our spiritual support to live. Did we give enough? Or was it Amos 3:7 that was simply in play? I really do not know.