Nigeria morgue scene of sorrow after plane crash

By Jon Gambrell

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 5 2012 9:33 a.m. MDT

A rescue worker walks past the wreckage of a plane in Lagos, Nigeria, Monday, June 4, 2012. The passenger plane carrying more than 150 people crashed in Nigeria's largest city on Sunday, government officials said. Firefighters pulled at least one body from a building that was damaged by the crash and searched for survivors as several charred corpses could be seen in the rubble.

Sunday Alamba, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

LAGOS, Nigeria — Anxious families and diplomats crowded into a Nigerian hospital's mortuary on Tuesday, trying to identify corpses from a plane crash that killed the 153 people aboard the airliner and an unknown number of others on the ground.

Nigeria's government also announced Tuesday it has indefinitely suspended the license of Dana Air, the carrier that operated the MD-83 airplane that crashed Sunday in the country's largest city.

The stench of the dead carried outside the air-conditioned morgue at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. Guards parking cars outside wore surgical masks to block out the smell.

Professor David Oke, the chief medical director of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, told the dozens of families that the morgue had received about 40 bodies. He said among those already identified were the bodies of a Chinese citizen and a Canadian.

Outside the hospital, Ugonna Nwoka said his uncle had been aboard the Dana Air flight that went down in a congested neighborhood on Sunday, turning much of it to rubble. Nwoka said he tried to go to the crash site on Monday but was pushed away by security forces.

"We stayed for hours trying to plead to see what happened," Nwoka said. Asked why he needed to see the crash site, Nwoka said if he didn't it would be "all like a dream, like a drama, like it's not real."

On Tuesday, he went to the hospital to see if his uncle's body was there. The uncle had worked for the aviation ministry and needed to take a last-minute trip to Lagos, Nwoka said. The flight had originated on Abuja, the capital. About 10 U.S. and Chinese diplomats also joined the families at the morgue.

By midday Tuesday, searchers had recovered 150 bodies, according to Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency. It's not yet known how many people died on the ground. Emergency workers were still looking through the debris for bodies, and one damaged building seemed on the verge of collapse.

After the hospital's director spoke to families, Jennifer Enanana leaned against a car, quietly sobbing. She said her younger brother had been on board the flight. She said her other brother had died within the last year.

"We are without eyes," she said, her sobs growing louder. "We don't have anybody that will protect us that can stand like a man and defend us. Dana stole him."

Popular anger has risen in the country against the airline since the crash. On Tuesday, the Nigerian government indefinitely suspended Dana Air's license to fly in Africa's most population nation, said Joe Obi, a spokesman for the country's aviation ministry. Obi said officials took the action as a safety precaution.

Officials with Dana Air could not be immediately reached for comment. A statement posted to the company's website described the airline as "professionally managed," saying the flight's captain had logged 18,500 flight hours, with 7,100 hours on an MD83.

Dana Air said the plane that crashed had its last safety inspection on May 30.

The MD-83 plane went down in Lagos' Iju-Ishaga neighborhood, about nine kilometers (five miles) from Lagos' Murtala Muhammed International Airport. The crew radioed the tower that they had engine trouble shortly before the crash, but the exact cause remained unclear. The weather was clear at the time.

A torrential downpour and strong winds that flooded roads and downed power lines and trees prevented emergency crews from getting to the site early Tuesday morning, said Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency. The rain had stopped by midday.

The scene is marked by charred metal from the plane, rubble from destroyed buildings, thick mud and standing water. A three-story apartment building at the site struck by the nose of the MD-83 aircraft began shaking Monday as rescuers dug through debris, and they are afraid it might collapse.

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