Dr. Wale Ahmed is Commissioner for Special Duties, Lagos State. In this interview, he explains how the state government was able to manage the situation to the point of saving seven people from the wreckage and preserved it for investigation of the Accident and Investigation Bureau, AIB.
How did you get to know about the crash?
We got to know about the incident almost immediately it happened because I have Traffic Radio with me which has many channels to link most of the first respondents which are agencies of Lagos State Government like LASTMA, LASAMBUS, LASEMA and RRS. It was incidented at the Command and Control Room, so we got to know of it almost immediately it happened because the structures are in place. And immediately I got to know of it, we mobilised all disaster emergency stakeholders.
But some people claimed it took you people more than 30 minutes before you got to the site?
That is not possible. Our fire service men actually put the fire out, in conjunction with the Federal Fire Service within the airport which naturally would be closer to the scene because, in this case, the site is right within the airport. And it was LASEMA that used their concrete cutting saw and other rescue equipment to cut the plane open before they could bring out the bodies. That was how we were able to save some people as a result of the promptness of response. We were there right from the word go. When things happen, you get to hear all sorts of things in town, we don’t work with that. It is from people like us you can hear the facts.
You talked about dismembering the plane. Will that not distort the evidence for the AIB on the long run?
You had to cut the plane open to bring out the people to save lives first of all before you now talk about evidence. Of what value is the evidence you get later be if you refuse to cut the plane open and save lives just because you are trying to preserve evidence? The way we work is to save lives first, that is paramount before any other thing. Again what we did, I don’t see how that action will compromise whatever investigation the Accident and Investigation Bureau may want to carry out on the plane much later because I didn’t leave the scene until I made sure officials of AIB were there to take over the scene and wreckage.
How many lives were you able to save?
We were able to recover 13 bodies. At the end of the day, the dead were 13. Survivors are seven and they are still alive, as we speak. I was with them just before this interview.
How many are in intensive care unit?
There are two victims still in intensive care but they are very stable as I speak.
How were you able to manage the crowd at the scene such that it was not problematic for you this time around?
Crowd control, yes, we still have problem with it but it was much better than the previous experience. RRS got there on time, other security officials within the airport were there on time. The response was prompt. It was actually people who knew what to do that were there. Though initially we had problem with the crowd, it was not as bad. But I still want to emphasise today concerning people who fight for the right of way with a vehicle blaring siren which I mentioned few weeks back. Yesterday I was in a vehicle; the commissioner for health was in another, behind me, and there was an ambulance behind him and the three of us were blaring siren and people were still struggling for right of way with us. So I am appealing to our people once more, the governor of Lagos State does not use siren, therefore I would not use siren, ordinarily, and, therefore, nobody else could reasonably be using siren in Lagos. I am appealing to Lagosians to realise that since their governor does not use siren, government officials will not ordinarily use siren. So, if they hear any vehicle blaring siren, it must be that the vehicle must be in a hurry going to save a life or situation. It may even be related to them. If we were not able to get to plane crash scene on time, may be we would not be able to talk about some people living now. They should please give way to all emergency vehicles blaring siren to do the work they have been mandated to do. This is very important.
Based on your interactions with all the stakeholders, can you recap how the accident happened?
Well, that is for the AIB to do. All we know from the records of Associated Airlines was that the plane took off at 9.30am and went down at 9.32. What happened, we are not in a position to know.