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Crash Sparks Debate Over Air Safety in Nigeria


Nigeria's military and civil aviation have suffered a series of disasters over the past two decades. Hundreds of lives have been lost in crashes. Sunday's crash of a military plane has renewed concerns over air safety in Nigeria.

In a country where aircraft maintenance is always suspect, experts warn that human error or weather cannot be ruled out in Sunday's crash of a military plane. Some reports suggest there were thunderstorms in the area at the time of the crash.

Experienced pilots say the hilly terrain could be a problem for most pilots, especially during the rainy season.

Air force spokesman Emeka Ozoemena says until ongoing investigations are concluded, it would be inappropriate to guess the probable cause of the crash.

"It is too early to talk about the cause of the crash," he said. "The recovery effort is still on and though we have recovered the bodies of the dead and those who survived, but the other process of recovery is still on. So, it might be too premature to talk about the cause of the crash. An accident investigation has been set up and until they turn in their preliminary result, it might be difficult to say well, this is the cause."

Nigeria has had several fatal commercial airline crashes in the past two years, claiming the lives of hundreds of people.

Sunday's crash was the deadliest for the military since 1992, when an aircraft plunged into a creek near Lagos, a few minutes after take off, killing nearly 200 officers on board.

The authorities have taken steps to ease out the country's aging fleet of privately owned passenger planes and improve ramshackle airport infrastructure in the past few months.

Dele Ore, a retired airline pilot and an aviation consultant in Lagos, says poor standard is still a problem in the Nigeria air force.

"Let's face it, the standards and regulation, the strict regulation to which the civil aircraft and civil certification and crewing are subjected to, the military is not subjected to that," said Ore. "So that when we are talking about training standards, we are talking about qualification and experience and all that, that is put together, their own standard is much, much lower than civil."

Captain Ozoemena rejects the claim that standards in the air force are below par, arguing that Nigerian air force personnel are some of the best trained.

"All over the world you know that military training is of very high standard. Most of these officers who fly these airplanes have gone to the best military academies and military flying schools all over the world," said Ozoemena. "Our military officers go through the best training and the civil aviation industry depends on the air force to replenish their pilots and technicians. Our safety standard is of very high quality. We operate very sophisticated machines, very fast machines and so on. You cannot compare military pilots with civil pilots because they do two different jobs, even though they fly."

One fact is certain though; the crash is bound to further erode confidence in the troubled Nigerian aviation industry.