Like a scene in a movie, the events of June 3rd 2012 is not one I can ever forget in a hurry. It was 3.56pm and everyone had formed clusters around available TV set in preparation to watch the Nigerian National Football team play their Namibian counterpart in Calabar, a home match for the Eagles. Then came a loud scream from the grocery shop across my house, it was the owner shouting “Ki le leyi?” in Yoruba which by interpretation is “what is this?”
Such yell would arrest anyone, it was certainly an alarm! We all trooped out, since the match had not started, a little amusement could spice up a bright Sunday afternoon. Noone could guess what was behind such a distress shrill.
Getting outside, the feeling was of shock as well as amazement – an aircraft flying so close to the house roof? This must be a movie stunt, I thought at the time.
Haven always had a desire to understand the rudiments of movie-making; I thought it best to search for a camera so I could capture this rare spectacle. Some Nollywood stars must be behind this first-ever, real-live video shoot, I must fast locate the camera crew of this movie-in-the-making, I thought.
Then, it occurred to me that this massive object, with the inscription “DANA Airlines” and as huge as the 3 storey building nearby can in no way be a stunt prop. Too close, the scene too real, too dangerous to be one.
Then poured comments and several questions – “What is the pilot doing?” “Is this a joke?” “This is in no way funny?” came in different languages and from different lips already aghast by the sight of the big bird hovering side to side, up and down. My cousin and I glanced at one another, and then it dawned on us that it was no joke afterall.
Little did we know that the pilot was in his moment of helplessness, confusion, anguish and last-minute attempt to save not just himself, but other one hundred and sixty souls (or thereabout) entrusted into his care just 45 minutes ago in Abuja.
Right at that moment the obviously-distressed aircraft took a sharp plunge straight ahead into a building occupied by a church (Redeemed Christian Church of God) sweeping though a newly constructed but yet-to-be-occupied residential building! Boom! It was a deafening sound. We – my neighbourhood was hit by a sad reality!
Those of us who had thronged out at first ran towards the crashed plane, and many were astounded by the loud sound, not knowing what the cause was. We only could point in the direction, a few of us could mutter “plane”, “ fly” “crash” or any other thing to communicate the horror, the thoughts in most minds was apparently running at a faster pace than words could express. The shock was indescribable!
In a moment, we got close enough but could not see much at first because of the smoke from the plane. A climb up the fence of a building nearby gave a view of the crashed plane.
Some others ran towards a 3-storey building which had a hit from the shredded wing of the plane. That was the house that the family who fell victim lived; they were reportedly seated, ready to watch the football match my entire neighbourhood ended up not watching.
As if in a flash, a fire started in a part of the building. Then came a man shouting from the balcony of the third floor, “What happened?” The yells of “plane!” “fire!” “jump!” from us all saw the man disappeared inside the house, to the bewilderment of everyone. However, he emerged few seconds later with a young child (his child), jumped down with the child wrapped and clutched to his body. As we later found out, the staircase was already crushed by the impact of the crash. I had believed and prided my father the best, but I must confess, I saw the great father in this man.
He landed alive but with a dislocated arm. We could only scream from a distance “Come out”, “Come out”; we were all too scared to go drag him out of the premises for fear another explosion or of the building collapsing. It took him about 3 minutes to get up, as he struggled out through the gate to the waiting arms of those of us who had alerted him.
We were interested in anyone still left in the building; we asked, he could only mutter that his brother-in-law was in one of the rooms, fast asleep while he and his child were waiting for the other members of his family to come back from church. The agony of this moment was beyond words as we knew we could not risk going into the building to help the brother-in-law or anyone left.
Many residents of Iju have by now summoned the sense and courage to make calls continuously to media houses. Every known SOS agencies were contacted and bombarded with calls for help.
By now, the time was 4.30pm. Scores have gathered from everywhere around to catch a glimpse of what was going on. Many living on Olaniyi Street and all around it started evacuating few valuables – TV sets, mattresses, chairs – in fear of an eventual fire to their homes. Generating sets were top priorities for most, as this was thought, and wisely so, a great aid to any inferno.
We could only wait for fire-fighters and rescue teams. The policemen from the nearest police station, Adeshola station came but could not do much. Indeed, no one knew what to do! We tried to break the windows of the burning storey building by throwing stones to allow for space for anyone who might be trapped and searching for a way of escape but none came out.
People started praying in their different religious faiths and tongues. A great many were in agonising tears. I was in tears. Old men with gray hairs were in tears, crying like babies. I have never seen such emotionally-rending scene, never!
There were those who wanted to have a share of the loot but those of those who got to the scene earlier prevented them to the best of our capacity.
The first set of fire-fighters came 40 minutes after the crash to the elation of us all. At least, all the houses would not be razed by this fire, as we all initially envisaged! We were ready to help and we encouraged the safety men so.
Despite the efforts of the fire-fighters, it was clear to us that with the raging fire, from the crashed aircraft or the buildings affected, it would be a miracle for any of the trapped occupants to make it through. The smoke from the airplane has now become a huge raging fireball! No one could go near, the heat was intense. We only could stare helplessly from a distance.
The first fire fighting crew did very well, and by the time they ran out of water, other trucks came. It was 5.40p.m.
Two helicopters were hovering, one belonging to Governor Fashola of the Lagos State (or so I thought) and another of the Nigeria Air Force which could not find a space to land.
The crowd had grown large, in their multitudes. Rescue workers from the Red Cross, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency team, The Police; in fact, every known law-enforcement agency was represented in their droves.
At 6.20pm, the rescue workers could go into the building to bring out victims- many of them, burnt beyond recognition, laid in body bags and whisked away by stand-by ambulances. What a day, what a scene, what a horror!
The quiet Iju community has since become a tourist site for many, robbed of its peace by the cruel angel of death.
- Adeniyi Aliu