BY Kenneth Ehigiator & DANIEL ETEGHE
Over 75 passengers and crew narrowly escaped death Thursday as a Rabat, Morocco-bound Royal Air Maroc flight lost one of its engines mid-air.
The flight, which took off at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, at about 7:30am, had on board National President of Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Garba Mohammed, and seven other Nigerian journalists who were to attend the Federation of Africa Journalists conference in Morocco.
The other journalists include National Secretary, NUJ, Shuaibu Liman, National Treasurer, Fatima Abdulkarim, Mukhtar Gidado, former Vice President, Zone E, Gbenga Onayiga, as well as chairmen of Bauchi and Kogi states chapters of the union.
Also on board the flight was a group of Beninois journalists who were billed to attend the same conference.
Vanguard gathered that the aircraft, Boeing 737-800, was already an hour into the flight when the pilot noticed failure in one of the engines of the twin-engine aircraft.
He was said to have immediately embarked on a return to point of take-off and called for emergency landing.
Lagos airport officials who preferred anonymity, said fire tenders and ambulance vehicles were deployed in response to the emergency declared by the pilot.
Fire hydrants were reportedly deployed in runway 18R where the pilot was expected to land the aircraft, having shed off fuel.
The pilot was, however, said to have landed safely without any injury to passengers and bodily damage to the aircraft.
Passengers who had urgent appointments to keep in Morocco reportedly engaged officials of the airline in war of words for deploying an aircraft deemed not airworthy.
The intervention of airport officials was said to have prevented what could have been an ugly spectacle at the airport.
NUJ President, Garba Mohammed, who thanked God for averting what could have been a major disaster, said the aircraft engines on take-off made some deafening vibrations, which frightened passengers on board.
He quoted the Beninois journalists as saying the engines gave a similar sound when they took off in Cotonou yesterday morning en route Lagos.
At press time, it was learnt that the airline was making arrangements to check the passengers into an hotel as stipulated by international civil aviation regulations, with a promise to airlift them to their destination today.