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Opinions of Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Columnist: Dr Odoemena

Plane crashes and weekends

The recent story in the national dailies of seven young officers of the Nigerian Air Force who died in a tragic plane crash made for sad reading. According to reports, the NAF Beechcraft King Air B350i was heading to Minna from Abuja with the officers on board, when it developed engine failure and crashed as it made its way back to Abuja. Though there have been insinuations of foul play, that is for the authorities to unearth. We pray for the repose of their souls and that God helps their families and friends through this trying period. But while we await the technical report on what could have been responsible for the crash, like many others before it, one thing is eerily salient about that crash — it happened on a weekend!

Perhaps, I am not the only one who has realised that in the last three decades or so, a majority of plane crashes in Nigeria have occured on weekends. If we add Friday to it, the number of weekend crashes will go up. So, is the association between plane crashes and weekends only a coincidence?

To buttress the point about plane crashes in Nigeria happening more on weekends than other days, here is a chronicle of plane crashes that occurred in the country on weekends in almost three decades. On September 26, 1992, a Nigerian Air Force AC-130 plane crashed just a few minutes of taking off from Lagos. All the 200 passengers perished in that crash. That tragic date fell on a Sunday. Similarly, on February 22, 1998, at the Kaduna Airport, a Boeing 737 owned by Chanchangi crashed. This also happened on a Sunday.

It’s not only Sundays of the weekends that these planes crashed. They also crashed on Saturdays. For instance, on May 4, 2002, which was a Saturday, EAS Airlines’ BAC 1-11-500 which had 105 people on board crashed in a densely populated area of Kano, taking the lives of 76 on board and 72 on the ground, making it a total of 148 dead.

Weekends continued to have a major share of plane crashes. An Aenail spray aircraft owned by Berfieex Nigeria Ltd crashed at the Bauchi Airport on Saturday, March 6, 2004. There were also the ones that happened on a Saturday, and another followed it on a Sunday. The first of them occurred on June 11, 2005 which was a Saturday, where a Boeing 727-200 aircraft also owned by Chachangi Airlines overshot the runway at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. The next day, June 12, another airplane overshot the runway at the airport in Jos. Luckily, no lives were lost in both cases.

Furthermore on weekend crashes, on July 23, 2005, a Saturday, a Lufthansa aircraft crashed in Lagos airport, but mercifully again no life was lost. But on October 22, 2005, another Saturday, those on a twin Engine Boeing 737, which belonged to Bellview Airline were not lucky, as the 117 people the plane was carrying died when it crashed in Lisa Village, Ogun State. December 10, 2005, was another tragic Saturday as a Sosoliso Airlines heading to Port Harcourt crash-landed in the Port Harcourt Airport, ending the lives of 109 passengers, as well as 60 students of Jesuit Loyola College, Abuja.

It was Sunday’s turn to throw the nation into mourning again when on September 17, 2006, an 18-seater Dornier 228 Air Force transport plane, that was carrying 15 senior army officers with three crewmembers crashed in Benue State, with only three people surviving the crash. Sunday continued in this tragic trend, as on October 29, 2006, Aviation Development Corporation Airline Boeing 737 which had 104 people on board crashed just as it took off from Abuja’s airport. Everyone but six died in that crash.

Then, came the turn of Saturday again when on March 15, 2008, Beechcraft 1900D plane marked 5N-JAH, owned by Wing Aviation crashed in Cross River State. All the four people on board died. It was only after six months that the aircraft’s wreckage was found.

However, on June 3, 2012, which fell, again, on a Sunday, the country suffered yet another air disaster when Dana Airlines Flight 9J 992, which was carrying 153 passengers, crashed in Iju-Ishaga, in Lagos, with all the passengers perishing.

Lastly, on Saturday, December 15, 2012, another air tragedy happened, claiming the lives of four people, which included Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State and former National Security Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, General Owoeye Azazi. The helicopter they were in crashed and exploded somewhere in the forest of Okoroba community which is in Nembe local government of Bayelsa State.

With this magnitude of plane crashes all happening on weekends, is it still a coincidence? Perhaps, not. There is therefore a need for aviation experts to probably do a research on it. We might gain a better insight on what could really be happening. Is it because there are more people travelling by air on weekends? Or is it that weekends generally make us less cautious?

Perhaps, it has a great deal to do with the number of manpower available on weekends. Though some organisations run shifts, it is well known that on weekends, we usually do not have the full complement of staff in many organisations that offer services on weekends. Key staff may not be on the ground to do certain important things, until the following Monday. Sometimes, the only person with a special skill at doing something only works on weekdays. Certain administrative actions have to wait until Monday. Someone with the keys to a room with special equipment will only be seen on a weekday. Even in the hospitals, it does happen. A research done in the UK showed that weekends are not the best times to visit the hospital. More untoward events were said to happen on weekends than on any other day.

Moreover, weekend starts around end of work on Friday. But go to a government office on Friday, you are more likely to be told it is not the best day to come, that you should come back on Monday. Added to this is the TGIF feeling which can make people relax and less prepared for dangers. Perhaps, the same thing happens in the aviation industry.

No one can say for sure why weekends have had more than their fair share of plane disasters in Nigeria, nevertheless this piece is meant to stir us, especially those in the aviation industry, and of course the authorities to unravel the mystery behind plane crashes and weekends.

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