* Aviation minister says captain sent distress signal
* Dana Air crash was worst airline disaster in 20 years
* Lagos state estimates total death toll at 159
By Felix Onuah and Chijioke Ohuocha
ABUJA/LAGOS, June 6 (Reuters) – A plane that crashed in Lagos on Sunday, killing all 153 people on board in Nigeria’s worst airline disaster for two decades, reported dual engine failure just before going down, the aviation minister said on Wednesday.
The McDonnell Douglas MD-83, operated by privately owned domestic airline Dana Air, smashed into an apartment block in a densely populated suburb on Sunday afternoon, killing everyone on board and probably six people on the ground.
“From the record of communication that we have, the captain of the aircraft called the traffic control in Lagos declaring a mayday and reported dual engine failure,” Aviation Minister Stella Oduah told journalists at the presidential villa.
“It was shortly after the captain’s distress call that the aircraft could no longer be seen in the radar and communication was lost.”
The government has set up panels to review the safety of all airlines in the country and suspended Dana Air’s air licence.
Dana Air has said there was nothing wrong with the aircraft.
“Dana Air takes safety very seriously and our aircraft are sound,” Dana Director Francis Ogboro told a news conference, repeating the company’s position that there was no mechanical fault with the plane before it went down.
Search teams found the “black box” voice and data recorder on Monday and it has been sent abroad for decoding, the Accident Investigations Bureau said.
Nigeria’s poor air safety record had been improving and Sunday’s was the first big crash for six years.
DEATHS ON THE GROUND
Lagos state government estimated that 159 people were killed in the collision, including six on the ground whose bodies have yet to be found.
Workers have finished recovering bodies from the rubble, Lagos state attorney general Ade Ipaye said. In total, 149 bodies were found and a number of body parts. Around two thirds of remains could not be identified and were to undergo post-mortem identification at a forensics laboratory.
“In circumstances like this its difficult to be exact on numbers … we have body parts that were not attached to anything,” Ipaye said.
Distinguishing the passengers from other victims has proven difficult and only two bodies – those of a woman and the child she was holding – have been confirmed as casualties on the ground.
A survey of the building and the surrounding houses found six people missing, said Oke Osanyintolu of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency.
Most of the dead on board were Nigerians, although a family of six Americans of Nigerian descent was killed, as were four Chinese citizens, two Lebanese and a French woman.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday that a British economist was also killed.
Source: Reuters Africa