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145 Dead in Nigerian Plane Crash

May 5, 2002

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KANO, Nigeria (AP) _ Boy Scouts in bright green uniforms pulled scorched bodies and body parts Sunday from the charred wreckage of an airliner that plowed through homes, mosques and a school in the northern Nigeria city of Kano.

The Red Cross reported 145 dead, with the army saying that included the country’s sports minister.

The death toll among people of the working-class neighborhood neared that of those aboard the plane _ and the Red Cross warned the number was likely to rise.

``We cannot count the human cost of this,″ said Umar Abdu, coordinator of a Nigerian Red Cross team, speaking of the difficulty of identifying dead from the burned, severed and mangled remains being brought in.

Carrier EAS Airlines reported two more survivors Sunday among the 69 passengers and eight crew members. The announcement brought the known total of those saved aboard the plane to four _ a female crew member and three passengers.

A chief nurse at a main city hospital said one of those from aboard the plane was only lightly injured. The other three were in serious condition, she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

One survivor among the passengers, retired army Gen. Emmanuel Ike Gona, spoke to The Associated Press and local reporters from his bed at a military hospital.

``It all happened too sudden,″ Gona said. ``It was God who saved me.″

Doctors were treating him for heavy burns, and he was in serious but stable condition.

Residents said the twin-engine jet ``wobbled″ soon after takeoff from Kano’s airport Saturday afternoon, bound for the commercial capital of Lagos, 435 miles to the south.

Plunging, the jet sheared roofs from two-story concrete homes and sliced a mosque in half as it broke apart, exploding in a ball of flames.

President Olusegun Obasanjo said the plane apparently lost power. Speaking to the nation on state radio, he promised a full investigation and ordered flags flown at half-staff Sunday and Monday.

``May the souls of the departed rest in peace,″ the Nigerian leader declared, saying he spoke ``with a heavy heart.″

Aviation authorities located one of the ``black boxes″ _ the flight data recorder, actually yellow. They stood guard over it until it could be wrested out, protecting it from thousands of curious sightseers who crowded into the neighborhood to paw through plane shards, baggage and bloody rubble.

``This black box will tell us what actually happened,″ Aviation Ministry official Faminu Remi said.

The plane’s other black box, the cockpit voice recorder, still was being sought.

The dead included two children under age 10 and two teachers at an Islamic religious school in Kano which, like the rest of northern Nigeria, is heavily Islamic.

Obasanjo said the plane ``crash-landed″ on the school. Residents and aid workers said classes had been on midday recess, sparing greater injuries among teachers and pupils.

Islamic prayer books and school books tangled with burned clothes and wrenched-apart wreckage Sunday.

A third schoolboy, also under 10, survived.

One wheel of the plane rested on the exposed second floor of a building, its roof lopped off by the plane’s descent.

Inexplicably, ambulance and fire department crews that were on the scene Saturday were gone.

Teen-age Boy Scouts and young members of a local Islamic vigilante anti-crime group _ wearing strikingly similar green uniforms _ led what appeared to be the only organized search.

Abubakar Abdullahi, wearing the secondhand uniform of a Boy Scout troop in New York City, said he found two burned bodies and two severed limbs.

``We are still looking,″ the 18-year-old said. ``And we won’t stop until we find everyone.″

Two mortuaries filled with remains.

At one, two families argued quietly over the identity of a badly disfigured female victim.

The refrigeration system was off at one mortuary, and workers were simply piling burned corpses on the floor to rot, said another family’s grieving relative, Jackie Husseini.

Husseini was searching for her aunt, the 55-year-old wife of a former military governor, and her nephew, Daniel, both of whom were aboard the plane.

She charged that mortuary workers, in what is notoriously corrupt Nigeria, were charging families up to $15 for help identifying loved ones.

``I’m a woman, and it is difficult for me to even go into that stinking place, and then they ask for money when I’m grieving,″ Husseini said.

Mortuary workers barred journalists from entering.

Miriam Abacha, the wife of late Nigerian dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, later personally identified Daniel’s body, hospital officials said.

Nigerian Sports Minister Ishaya Mark Aku was among those killed, Army Brig. I.S. Ejeh said.

At least one of those killed was a British woman, British High Commission spokesman Jon Sharp said. He declined to release her name.

Nigerian radio stations said other passengers included a number of local dignitaries who attended a ceremony in Kano earlier in the day.

Survivors from the plane included a Lebanese national, the airline said.

Update hourly