By Sola Ogundipe, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Lawami Mikairu, Daniel Eteghe & Monsur Olowoopejo
LAGOS — The family of late former Governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, whose remains, while being conveyed to Akure in an aircarft chartered from Associated Airlines, crashed last Thursday in Lagos said, yesterday, that the choice of the ill-fated plane was not that of the family.
15 of the 20 passengers and crew on board the aircraft died in the crash.
The Agagu family in a statement by Femi Agagu to clear the air on the controversy surrounding the choice of the airline said: “The contracts for the purchase of the casket, the hiring of the hearse, arrangement for the flying of the corpse from Lagos to Akure, the stage for the lying-in-state as well as the transportation to Iju Odo were between Ondo State Government and MIC as part of the plans to give the former governor a state burial.”
Reacting to media reports which alleged that Agagu family chose the airline, Mr. Femi Agagu, the late politician’s younger brother dismissed the reports as “false, wicked and deliberate distortion of obvious facts.”
Femi Agagu said the family knew nothing about how the airline was contracted.
“We appreciate the immense support of the state government since the demise of Dr. Olusegun Agagu. But we would like to state here that we were only invited to point to the type of casket we wanted. Every other arrangements including the flight, lying-in-state and even transportation to Iju Odo were made by the state government and MIC. For anybody to say we chose Associated Airline is total falsehood and we believe such report couldn’t have come from the state government quarters,” even as it commiserated with the families of those who lost their lives in the plane crash.
Another crash survivor on verge of death
Meanwhile, there was anxiety, yesterday, over the deteriorating condition of Taiwo Akintunde, one of the survivors of the crash just as authorities at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, remained optimistic about the chances of survival of the three survivors if their condition remained stable.
Although health personnel declined to comment specifically on the crash victim’s state of health, it was gathered that in the last three days, Akintunde, who has been under observation at the Intensive Care Unit, ICU, of the surgical emergency unit of the health institution, had been permanently under oxygen resuscitation.
A source confirmed that the patient has been comatose and hanging on to life with the aid of crucial life support systems. A fifth crash survivor, Samson Hassan, who was also on admission at the ICU died on Saturday.
When Vanguard visited the surgical emergency ward of the health institution yesterday morning, it was a quiet and serene atmosphere in contrast to the previous day when family members and sympathisers thronged the premises.
Visitors were disallowed from gaining entry into the unit as health personnel on duty instructed family members to wait around or go home and come back in the afternoon. A return visit by the reporter later in the afternoon provided no reprieve as there was no senior medical personnel on duty authorised to speak to the public.
Also, final collection of samples for the DNA test is expected to be completed today. Two family members of each of 12 of the victims had submitted samples Saturday, in addition to one member of the 13th victim’s family. State Chief Examiner and Pathologist, Professor John Obafunwa, explained that DNA analysis was necessary for proper identification of the corpses.
AIPB begins investigation into crash
The Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau, AIPB, is to download the flight recorders of the crashed plane in Abuja as the Bureau has started investigation into the cause of the crash.
In an official statement yesterday, Capt. Muktar Usman, Commissioner, AIPB, said: “The AIPB has commenced investigation into the crash of Embraer-120 ER aircraft marked 5N-BJY belonging to Associated Aviation Limited, which occurred at the Joint Users Hydrants installation at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos at 9:30hrs (local Time) on Thursday 03 October, 2013.”
“Flight recorders of the ill-fated aircraft have been recovered and will be downloaded at the Bureau’s newly installed flight laboratory at its Abuja headquarters. The readout of the recorders has commenced. The aircraft, which crashed less than three minutes after take-off from Runway 18L of the airport had 20 souls on board, including seven members of the airline. There were six survivors as at 05 October, 2013.”
We are now afraid
Family of one of the victims, the Amaechis from Ayasumbi community in ImoState, has also been in mourning in the last three days.
Mr. Kingsley Amaechi, a first son died in the crash with his employer, Mr. Tunji Okusanya, Director of M.I.C Funeral Services and his son, Tunji Junior, who were accompanying the casket of the late former governor.
Vanguard gathered that the late Kingsley who was in his mid 30s, was the first son of the family. He died two years after he led other siblings to bury their mother. The late Kingsley, an alumnus of the Institute of Management and Technology, (IMT), Enugu, joined M.I.C. Funerals in 2000 after his graduation. It was gathered that Kingsley died minutes after he was rushed to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH by the rescue team.
In an interview with Vanguard, Mr. Dennis Ememe, his uncle said “On Thursday before the incident occurred, I had a telephone conversation with his brother who lives in South Africa. After the telephone conversation, the news of the ill-fated airplane that crash landed at MMIA, filtered in. I was anxious to know those who were involved. But I could not get their names. In the night, the manifest was revealed. When I saw his name, I doubted it because people sometimes bear the same name. The only thing that can help to identify such person is when the family knows that he went for such. I ignored it.”
“Until yesterday (Friday), when I began to receive calls from my relatives, I could not quickly come to terms because I know he does not have any business with the Agagu family until I was told that the casket was made by M.I.C and the burial service was also awarded to his company.”
“This is not good news for the family. He left his wife and a less than one-year-old baby. Who will fill this vacuum he left behind?”
“The news of his death is still a shock. In our community during Christmas football match, he is the striker for the community team. We will miss him because he is one of the best players we have in our team. Our community may not join the football tournament because he has left a huge vacuum that would be hard to fill.”
“We will miss all his great contribution to the community. This is a man who had great vision for the community. Our Christmas has been shattered.”
I wish I can reverse the clock — relative
Another relative, Mr. Eugene Iwunonu said “as you can see, we are grieving, and we wish we can reverse the hands of the clock.”
Iwunonu appealed to the government: “I am appealing to the Federal Government to improve not only the aviation sector but, also other means of transportation as well. If others means of transportation are working effectively, I believe my brother would have chosen another option to travel to Akure.”
Another relative who spoke under the condition of anonymity said: “For us, we are not satisfied with the DNA capturing exercise. We want to see all the corpses to know if truly Kingsley is dead.”
All efforts to speak with his wife proved abortive, as she wept uncontrollably.
I am still dreaming- Widow
Mrs. Florence Duru, wife of late Chijioke Duru, an employee of M.I.C funeral service, wept uncontrollably when Vanguard visited her.
Sitting with relations, Florence, a legal practitioner, cuddled Chijioke’s daughter, in anticipation that her husband will soon return from work.
She said “I am still dazed. This is not possible.”
Florence, who managed to speak to Vanguard, sighed and said: “You need information on my husband but Chijioke and I did not discuss that after the publication of our marriage, his obituary will be next.”
It was learnt that Chijioke, who married Florence less than five years ago, kept calling the name of his daughter before he breathed his last.
Florence continued: “That was what we were told by a nurse at the hospital. I know that for him to have mentioned his daughter’s name, it showed that my husband could have been alive now if help had come his way earlier. I can imagine the pain he would have gone through.”
Also speaking on behalf of the family, Mr. Eugune Duru, stated: “This is a sad moment for the family and we are yet to come to terms that our brother is dead, Duru said:
“Our demand for now is to see his corpse to know if truly he is dead. They have not allowed us to see the corpse. We are confused for now because they have not allowed us to see the survivors and the dead. His son, David is in Primary Four.”
I am still waiting for his phone call— Flight Engineer’s widow
Friends and sympathisers yesterday thronged the home of Engineer Elaiye Soroh, the flight engineer aboard the ill-fated airliner. When Vanguard visited their residence in Shogunle area of the state, members of the family were sighted holding meetings to decide on burial arrangements and other activities.
His wife, Mama David, as fondly called, was sitting in their living room speaking faintly with those who had come to condole with the family, while his eight-year-old son, David and his younger sister, thought their father had gone on a trip and will be back soon to cuddle them.
It was also learnt that the tragedy happened on October 4th, when his first son, David, a primary four pupil, should be celebrating his birthday.
Vanguard gathered that the late engineer had planned to leave Associated Airlines for another employer.
Mama David, said “I know he works for Associated Airline.
“Whenever he goes on a trip like that, before he leaves the MMIA, he will call. When he gets to the destination, he will call. When he is leaving the place, he will call and when he gets back to Lagos, he will call me to inform me that he has finally arrived in Lagos.”
Sources said that he (Elaiye) had spent 10 years working for the defunct Capital Airlines and later, Associated Airlines, before he met his death.
I dreamt about the crash -victim’s brother
Wing Commander Oyinprebi Soroh, (rtd) brother to Elaiye in an interview with Vanguard said: “I cannot explain the way I feel at the moment but I wish I could have stopped the crash. I feel said about the entire event.”
Oyinprebi, who now operates an online prayer ministry, ‘The Network Prayer Partners,’ said: “ I had a dream that it would happen. After that, I prayed about it and I called on others members of the page to also do so.”
“I know that if we hadn’t prayed about it, there wouldn’t have been any survivors,” he added.
Fear grips residents
Following frequent airplane crashes in Lagos, residents around airport environs have resorted to prayers to avert any plane crashing on their buildings. They now panic at the sound of plane taking off or about to land.
Mrs. Bimpe Adisa, a civil servant and resident of Dejo Akewula Street, told Vanguard: “We are now living in fear here at every sound of a plane approaching. Fear grips us because our airspace has become a terror to us. Why are we having plane crashes everytime?
“Our leaders are just watching innocent souls perishing and doing nothings to salvage the situation.”
Residents on other adjoining streets like; Adepeju and Banwo, were said to have resorted to fervent prayers to avert any calamity from the airspace.