550 pilgrims escape death as plane crash-lands in Niger – The Punch

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550 pilgrims escape death as plane crash-lands in Niger – The Punch
  • AIB launches investigation

Oyetunji Abioye, Tunde Ajaja and Enyioha Opara

No fewer than 550 Benue State pilgrims returning to Nigeria from Hajj in Saudi Arabia escaped death on Saturday as the plane conveying them crash-landed at the Minna Airport. No life was lost in the incident.

A source at the airport told one of our correspondents that the incident, involving a Boeing 747-400, occurred around 5am.

It was gathered that the aircraft developed a technical fault on approaching the airport, resulting in its forceful landing, which made one of the engines to grate the runway, thereby causing damage to the engine.

The source noted that part of the runway was affected and that some materials were also damaged by the grating after which the aircraft skidded off the runway.

An eyewitness said by the time the passengers came out of the aircraft, they were visibly in shock, given the severity of the crash-landing. The eyewitness said the pilgrims rushed out of the plane over fears of possible fire.

“The fire that would have followed would have spread to all parts of the airport because we don’t have fire fighting vehicles in this airport,” a senior official of the airport told SUNDAY PUNCH.

At least five investigators with the Accident Investigation Bureau from Lagos had arrived at the airport and immediately inspected the partly damaged aircraft after which they went into a closed door meeting with the officials of the airport.

When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the state Pilgrims Welfare Board, Hassana Isah, confirmed the story but did not give further details.

Isah however said the development would not affect the return of the over 2,000 pilgrims still in Saudi Arabia, adding that the deadline for the pilgrims to return would be met.

No official of the airline was available to comment on the issue.

AIB spokesperson, Mr Tunji Oketunmbi, said the Bureau would issue a press statement on the issue, but as of the time of filing this report, he had yet to send the statement.

Also, a spokesperson for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Mr Joe Jimo, promised to get back to one of our correspondents, but he had yet to do so as of the time of filing this report.

Meanwhile, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria said 1,348 pilgrims were transported to Nigeria in three flights on Saturday.

This was contained on the site of NAHCON’s Command and Control Centre in Makkah and monitored by News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja.

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The returnees included 554 pilgrims from Borno State, 404 from Kebbi State and 390 from Kaduna State, including nine NAHCON officials.

The report pointed out that the latest figure brought the total number of pilgrims that had returned to 38,278 in 79 flights.

The Kaduna State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board also said in a statement by its Public Relations Officer, Yunusa Abdullahi, on Saturday that it had transported all its 3,544 pilgrims back home from Saudi Arabia.

The statement stated that the last batch of 390 pilgrims arrived in Kaduna at exactly 1.01am aboard Fly Nas Airline on Saturday, adding that one of the pilgrims from the state died in Makkah.

About 1.8 million pilgrims around the world, including 65,000 Nigerians, performed the 2019 hajj in Saudi Arabia.

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