By LAWANI MIKAIRU & ROSEMARY ONUOHA
Lagos — Dana Airlines resumed flight operations Frirday, about seven months after one of its aircraft crashed into a building in Lagos, killing 163 people on board the country’s worst airline disaster in about two decades with an inaugural flight to Abuja. this is even as some victims’ families who are yet to be compensated described the re-issuance of Dana operational license by the federal government as malicious and wicked.
The government lifted a ban on the airline in September but an investigation is ongoing and there is still no official explanation of the crash.
The airline’s five remaining McDonnell Douglas MD-83’s operating in Nigeria have a capacity of 140.
The aircraft M083 with number 7VC9QZ and piloted by Captain Ola Olukayode departed from domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos at exactly 10.10am and landed smoothly at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja at exactly 11.08 am.
The flight, had on board passengers who came early in the morning to buy their tickets, journalists, showbiz personalities, and comedians like Bright Okpocha, a.k.a Basket Mouth.
The take off was smooth, even as passengers on board the aircraft did not show any apprehension during take off. Passengers gave a standing ovation to the pilot on touch down.
“There was a round of applause for the very smooth landing,” Usidamen said on telephone.
Tickets were sold for as little as N14,400 ($92) one way, around half what some airlines are charging. Dana Air will only be flying the Lagos-Abuja route for the time being.
The MD-83 crashed in a Lagos suburb on June 3, killing everyone on board and 10 people on the ground.
”We won’t know the cause until the investigation has been completed,” Aviation Ministry spokesman Joe Obi said. “A thorough audit of the airline has been done and the remaining fleet is airworthy.”
Speaking with aviation reporters after a safe return to Lagos at exactly 1.29 pm., the pilot, Captain Olukayode commended the Federal Government for allowing the Dana Airline to resume flight operations.
On intending passengers apprehension about the state of the airline fleet of aircraft and safety of passengers, Captain Olukayode said Dana’s aircraft have been certified fit adding that safety of passengers was of utmost priority to the management. He emphasized that the flight crew, which include the pilots, were family men and women who would want to return home after each working day to their respective families, stressing that they would not compromise on safety.
President of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN, Mr. Benjamin Okewu who was also on board the flight expressed satisfaction with both the inaugural flight and the resumption of flight operations by Dana Airlines.
Okewu said ‘’ I had no fear; that was why I decided to embark on this inaugural flight. We had always argued in the aviation industry as professional and labour leaders that the fact that an aircraft had an accident does not mean the airline should be grounded. The aircraft are machines. They could have faults anytime and basically we believe in NCAA, and NCAA is carrying out its responsibility well. They have told the world that they have conducted their various test checks and the aircraft in their fleet are airworthy. That is what is important to me. I leave the rest to God. The take-off and landing were wonderful.’’
Also during the ceremony, one of the passengers, Mr Bright Okpocha, aka Basket Mouth said he was satisfied with the experience he had on the flight and would not hesitate to patronize the airline anytime.
Okpocha said ‘’As we speak now, there is a road accident that has just occurred. I cannot force you to come and fly Dana. I can only speak for myself. Sailing and driving are even more dangerous, flying is still the safest way to travel. If you want to travel fast and safe, try Dana. They are back and better. They have learnt from their mistakes and I know it is not going to happen again. The flight was smooth, not turbulent.’’
…Victims’ families kick
Meanwhile, yet to be compensated families of the ill-fated Dana Airplane that crashed on the 3rd of June 2012 in Lagos killing all 153 people on board as well as some ground victims have described the re-issuance of Dana operational license by the federal government as malicious and wicked.
The families also lamented that the management of Dana has deliberately and maliciously refused its insurers to pay the statutory compensation to them.
Out of the 153 victims on board as well as the unconfirmed number on ground, the insurers of Dana air fleet have only paid the statutory $30,000 compensation to about 80 families of the victims.
The deliberate refusal, according to the families, is as a result of the wicked machinations of Dana Airline and its representatives. It will be recalled that Section 48(3) of the Civil Aviation Act provides “In any case of aircraft accident resulting in death or injury of passengers, the carrier shall make advance payments of at least US $30,000(Thirty thousand United States dollars) within 30 days from the date of such accident, to the natural person or such natural persons who are entitled to claim compensation in order to meet the immediate economic needs of such persons and such advance payments shall not constitute recognition of liability and may be offset against any amounts subsequently paid as damages by the carrier.”
Legal practitioners and consultants, representing 40 families of the victims, M.O Awoniyi & Co, said that all efforts to get the claims to be paid thus far have proved abortive.
Awoyemi said, “We have tried severally and in vain, via written and oral communication(s) to get the Airline and its insurer’s solicitors, particularly the law firm of Yomi Oshikoya & Co. (who are responsible for giving the cheques to the families of the victims) to pay our clients their monies as stipulated in the Act, but all our efforts have not produced the desired result. They have only through, deceitful and deliberate measures prevented our clients from meeting their immediate and economic needs occasioned by the death of their loved ones in the plane crash. The name of two of our clients Ahmad Dukawa and Femi Shobowale were fraudulently listed by Dana Airlines, its local and international insurers, Prestige Assurance Plc and Pritchard Insurance/Lloyd’s of London as having been paid $30,000 each.
“It beats our imagination as to why five months after the plane crash which killed the families of our clients, thus rendering some of them widows, widowers, fatherless, and motherless, they (families of the victims) would still be subjected to such a painful, saddening and wicked manipulations by the Airline and its representatives, knowing fully well that they are still in grief and much sorrow, not only because they have lost their loved ones, but because they were killed in such circumstances. This is in direct disregard to the provision of the Civil Aviation Act which clearly states that compensation ought to have been paid within 30 days of the plane crash regardless of any prevailing circumstances.”
Also, Barr. Gbenga Eguntola who is representing the ground victims said that quite unlike some families of the deceased crews that have benefited from the interim compensation of USD30,000 per victim’s family, none of the families of ground casualties have received any compensation.
“Equally worrisome are the plights of ground survivors, on whose behalf we have filed claims since 20th June, 2012. We have also forwarded various documents to Dana Airlines Solicitors, Yomi Oshikoya and company. The deliberate tardiness and reluctance of the aircraft insurers to settle the claims of the ground claimants are indeed worrisome,” Eguntola said.
Eguntola added that some ground victim’s have lost their means of livelihood , while some have sent their wives and children back to their various towns and villages as their hope of quick settlement are waning by the day.
Citing the present condition of some of the families of the victims, Eguntola said “The mother of late Habibat Yusuf, Alhaja Modinat Sanni, who depended totally on her daughter for her daily sustenance, is helpless. Hunger, deprivation, and poverty have been her constant companions.
“Modinat is presently ill with no one to take care of her, and her only daughter whom she depended on was one of the ground victims who died during the crash.”
Eguntola said, while the identities of late passengers and crews aboard the ill-fated air craft are already known, this is not so for ground victims. How many people died on the ground? A clearer picture of ground casualties are just emerging after the accident.
He stated that the firm had filed insurance claims for 18 ground survivors on June 20 this year, forwarding various copies to Yomi Oshikoya, the solicitor to the airline and its insurers.
“The deliberate delay and reluctance of the Aircraft Insurers to settle the claims of the ground claimants are indeed worrisome”, he stated
Meanwhile, the management of Prestige Assurance Plc and Dana Management said that payment of compensation to all the families of the victims was being delayed due to multiple claims from some families.
However, the families have responded that the allegation is unfounded and totally false.
The families rebuffed the allegation saying that the insurance company and Dana Management are only playing hanky-panky games to avoid paying compensation.
According to the families, there has never been any incident of multiple claims from families of the victims, because all necessary documentations have been done and sent to Dana which were proved to be accurate. Dana Management is only buck-passing the blame for their inefficiency and outright refusal to pay compensation to the suffering families, they said.
The families accused Dana Management of taking some steps which their insurance company, Prestige and solicitors are not aware of.