The official manifest of the McDonnel Douglas MD-83 plane that crashed in Nigeria on Sunday has shown that there were 146 passengers on board, seven less than the number given by aviation officials.
The manifest, sighted by a PANA correspondent, gave the breakdown of the total number as 135 adults, five children and six infants.
With the six crew members on board, the total number of passengers and crew was 152, according to the manifest.
The plane was operated by the local DANA Airlines, which started operations 10 Nov. 2008.
The victims of the crash included the spokesman of the state-run oil firm NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), Dr. Levi Ajuonuma; Ehime, son of the late former military Vice President Augustus Aikhomu and three Nigerian Army Generals.
Aviation Minister Stella Oduah had told journalists that the ill-fated plane, which was travelling from the capital city of Abuja to Lagos, had 153 passengers and six crew.
She said the pilot of the plane declared an emergency at 3.45pm local time, when it was 11 nautical miles from its Murtala Mohammed Airport destination.
One minute later, it disappeared from the radar, and was later found to have crashed into some buildings at Iju on the outskirts of Lagos, setting the buildings on fire.
The minister said no survivors had been found as at the time she briefed the press, more than three hours after crash.
Residents of the area where the plane crashed said rescue workers did not arrive on time.
Rescue officials said the huge number of people at the scene prevented them from easily gaining access.
Some eyewitnesses told the local Punch newspaper that they had shouts of ”help, help” from the plane as well as from residents of the buildings affected by the crash.
‘‘We all rushed to the scene after the plane crashed but we did not know what to do as the smoke was too much for us. Somebody in the crashed plane, we don’t know whether it was a passenger or the pilot, tried to escape,” the paper on Monday quoted an unidentified eyewitness as saying.
Rescue operations resumed on Monday morning, with officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Red Cross, as well as security agencies, searching the rubble of the buildings for possible survivors. The search was suspended on Sunday night as darkness fell.
One of the officials told PANA that some bodies were retrieved from the buildings on Sunday, but could not say if they were those of passengers or residents of the buildings, which include a two-storey house and a publishing house.
A NEMA official, Mrs. Ojo, said the agency could not yet determine the number of those who died on the ground.
”Yes we have retrieved some bodies but we cannot yet determine whether they are from the plane or from the buildings,” she said.
Meanwhile, Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Harold Demuren said investigation to determine the cause of the crash had begun.
Though the cause of the crash is yet to be established, local media reports on Monday said the crashed plane had a history of ”worrying defaults”, starting from when the original owners, US-based Alaska Airlines, acquired it 13 Nov. 1990 to when it sold it to DANA 17 Feb. 2009.
According to the private Vanguard newspaper on Monday, on 3 May, an unnamed Lagos station manager of the airline was reported to have drawn the attention of management of the airlines to the fact that the aircraft in question needed to be grounded for general check-up but that alarm was ignored.
The paper also reported that the plane twice recently made an air return, on 11 May and 25 May. The reports cannot yet be independently verified.
President Jonathan has declared three days of national mourning, in addition to cancelling all his scheduled appointments for Monday.
The accident was the second involving a Nigerian plane in as many days, following the crash of an Allied Air Cargo at the Kotoka Airport in Accra, Ghana, on Saturday, killing 10 people.
A former pilot of the defunct national carrier Nigeria Airways said in a recent newspaper interview that local operators have resorted to ”cutting corners” just to keep their aircraft in the air.
“Today, you can quote me anywhere, operators are becoming very few, we know that pilots are given instructions, ‘if you have a snag in an aeroplane, do not put it on your technical logbook, write it on a piece of paper, when you land, give it to the engineer’,” said Capt. Tito Omaghomi.
”What it means is that if the engineer is able to fix your snag, good; if he is unable to fix your snag, the aeroplane will go into service because there will be no evidence in the check log,” he said.