Nigerian plane was faulty, airline official says

The 22-year-old McDonnell Douglas MD-83 plane had a history of mechanical problems, an unnamed Dana Air official told a Nigerian TV station. Airline officials insist it was fit to fly.

Jon Gambrell/AP
Onlookers stand on the tail wing of a crashed passenger plane in a neighborhood just north of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, in Lagos, Nigeria, Sunday, June 3. The passenger plane carrying more than 150 people crashed in Nigeria's largest city on Sunday.

Nigeria’s authority has now confirmed that the Dana Air plane that killed at least 153 people when it went down in Lagos was an old plane and required service. It was also described as too old to continue to continue transporting passengers.

The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has confirmed the suspension of the operating license of Dana Air, the operator of the MD-83 jetliner that crashed with 153 on board in a crowded neighborhood of Lagos on Sunday.

The aviation authority's action coincided with a separate bill, passed with a majority in Nigeria's senate, to suspend the airline's activities in the country.

Dana Air's suspension comes on the same day as a company official's allegations that the ill-fated Flight 0992, an aging McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft, had been having engine trouble for days before the crash. The Dana Air official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Channels Television in Lagos that the Indian owners of the airline ordered the plane to fly, even after ground engineers had to make repeated repairs in Lagos, Calabar, and Abuja.

"It has been having faults over time, continuously, hydraulics or one thing or the other. That aircraft kept having problems and they were not ready to park it," the unnamed Dana official told Channels Television.

The official said the 22-year-old plane was plagued with mechanical problems and was not supposed to have left the ground. 

"There was a case when it was on ground in Uyo for over six hours, it had a [faulty] bolt," the official told Channels. "And then in Abuja it happened a few days ago. Some people went with the aircraft but they could not come back, because it had a fault there and it couldn’t leave Abuja.”

But Dana Air has denied allegations that the ill-fated plane was not fit to fly. 

The airline's director of flight operations, Capt. Oscar Wilson, together with director of ground operations Amos Olajide and communication manager, Tony Usidamen, insisted to reporters that the aircraft was in good condition.

“No aircraft would go if not in perfect condition," Capt. Wilson said. "We don’t take risks with people’s lives. I did the test flight myself, there was nothing wrong with the aircraft, and it was okay.” 

Aviation Safety Network, a website that tracks planes and plane accidents, says that the aircraft, originally bought by Alaska Airlines in November 1990, was bedevilled with technical problems soon after its delivery by McDonnell Douglas. The aircraft was eventually sold by Alaska Airlines in August 2008, and maintained at Miami, before its eventual delivery to Dana Air on Feb. 19, 2012.

According to the network, the aircraft was diverted due to smoke in the cabin in November 2002, and on Aug. 20, 2006, passengers were evacuated after landing at Long Beach, Calif., when a bundle of wires created electrical sparks and smoke in the cabin area

More worrisome was an emergency landing the plane was forced to make on April 19, 2012, not long after its delivery to Dana in Nigeria. The plane lost engine power after it struck birds after takeoff in Lagos.

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