By Myke Uzendu
Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, has seized opportunity of the reopening/inauguration of the rehabilitated runway of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, on Sunday, to remember the victims of the November 1983 plane crash at the airport.
Ugwuanyi unveiled a newly reconstructed and beautified airport roundabout with a monumental aircraft statue constructed by the Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA), in memory of the 51 passengers and 2 crew members who lost their lives on Monday, November 28, 1983, aboard Nigeria Airways F28-2000 aircraft.
The plane was on a scheduled domestic flight from Lagos to Enugu but crashed (3.2km) short of the runway and caught fire after a steep approach in poor visibility.
Enugu Deputy Governor, Hon. Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Edward Ubosi, the State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Engr. Greg Nnaji and the Executive Chairman of ECTDA, Dr. Josef Umunnakwe Onoh, witnessed the brief ceremony.
At least 18 people reportedly survived the crash which claimed the wife, and four children of late Senator Offia Nwali.
The then Governor of old Anambra State Chief C.C Onoh also lost a daughter in the Ill fated flight.
Then Vice President Alex Ekwueme, in a special radio broadcast that night, said there were 55 passengers and a crew of six aboard, and a Nigerian News Agency correspondent at the scene reported 53 people were killed.
Ekwueme called the crash one of the worst air disasters in Nigeria’s history. He said an inquiry would investigate the cause of the accident.
Airline spokesman Yinka Tobun said the plane, a Fokker-VFW F-28 Fellowship, left Lagos at 6 a.m. (1 a.m. EST) on a regularly scheduled flight.
The jet, a twin-engine short-haul transport developed by The Netherlands, crashed 1.5 miles short of the Enugu Airport, about 300 miles east of Lagos.
Only those sitting close to the emergency exit had any chance of getting out after the crash.
Earlier, the office of Nigerian President Shehu Shagari said there were 71 passengers aboard the jetliner, but did not give the number of crew members and the news agency said 74 people were on the plane.
The president’s office said Minister of Aviation John Nwodo Jr. had flown to the crash site to assess the damage, and Nigerian radio reports said Minister of Transport Umaru Dikko and other top government officials had left for the scene.
All government offices were ordered closed in Anambra state, where Enugu is located, out of respect for victims of the crash.