Friday, 8 June 2012

Nigeria: My Observations of the Dana Air Crash Aftermath

Untold tragedies
Last weekend, Nigeria was hit by unimaginable tragedies that would have far-reaching consequences and hopefully significant changes for the good in what we are and who we are as people and part of the greater humanity of the world.
To have two air crashes in the space of 24 hours was just unmitigated disaster that had to be systemic in its Genesis and utterly appalling to all concerned, only the whole truth can begin to assuage the pain of loss suffered by all affected, the loss of life in both tragedies just leaves one numb as questions linger.
From what has been observed, reported and gleaned from most especially, the Dana Air crash on Sunday on the outskirts of Lagos, it is pertinent that some fundamental issues be highlighted in our approach to disaster and emergency response in Nigeria – these need to be addressed by all forms of communication, information dissemination, education and public enlightenment.
Bad or negligent maintenance?
The comment I had with regards to the cargo plane crash in Ghana of an aircraft that took off from Nigeria was related to the assumption that the brakes had failed. I opined that no matter how badly an aircraft is serviced, brake failure is not what you expect to hear of, it would appear I had spoken too soon on the matter of airworthiness and aircraft safety.
The next day, with less than an hour in the air and approaching Lagos to land, Dana Air lost its two engines and crashed into a highly populated area of Lagos, there had to be something fundamentally wrong with the aircraft for it to lose two engines on such a short flight, we hope that the black boxes reveal much more about why this happened.
Initially, there are these issues, our preparedness for impending emergencies when Mayday calls are made and what possible action the crew might have taken after the Mayday call to avert ploughing into crowded areas.
Obviously, the matter of maintenance of fleets of aircraft, their airworthiness, the age of the fleet and the other issues surrounding the regulation of airlines in Nigeria are brought to the fore by these tragedies, one will hope that all systems and processes have been above board but serious doubts remain.
Feeding our bizarre appetites for the macabre
On the ground we were met with another set of troubling circumstances.
Crowds had gathered out of curiosity and interest to view and gawp, not doing much to help the victims of either the crash before the plane exploded or those whose houses had been demolished by reason of impact and collision.
Then the first pictures that appeared showed the crowds standing on parts of the destroyed aircraft risking the contamination of essential evidence that would have had to be gathered to determine the cause of the crash.
Soon afterwards, other pictures appeared in their full gruesomeness of the presumably dead in some cases and possibly gravely injured but barely alive. The picture takers had no scruples about posting the grotesque, macabre and downright intrusively disrespectful of the victims as if they were doing a great service of wholesome dissemination of information.
It behoves one to condemn in the clearest terms the inurement we have acquired to tragedy that we think nothing of sharing these shocking pictures almost for the fun of having the technology to project the utterly reprehensible – we have seen the same in the appetite for sexually explicit rape videos, the unfortunate blowing to smithereens of a bomb disposal officer and much else – you wonder where does the savage Neanderthal in us stop gaining ascendancy and allow a sense of civility and humaneness to make us cultured humans again.
The crowds and civic responsibility
What annoyed me the most was the way crowds impeded the access of emergency services to the accident scene. You wonder if we need basic civics classes to be told and to know that emergency services should and must have priority of access, right of way and literally no impediment to getting to an accident scene.
Their ability to access the scene without obstruction and then the ability to leave the scene freely with victims for medical care must not need for anyone to be informed. Alas! I learnt something of Nigerians I somewhat did not know in 46 years of being associated with that country, we are ostentatious, hedonistic and found with the most modern of things but are primitive, backward and ignorant when it comes to emergency response either by the services or by the reaction of the people at large – it was at first shameful, then unforgivable and ultimately beneath contempt.
That the armed forces had to use whips and twigs to beat away the crowds like animals to cordon off the place for the emergency services and investigation of the air crash site speaks volumes, there are issues of crowd control but more importantly as a matter of civic responsibility people should just know to make way, disperse and make allowances for constituted authority to have way.
It is something we most definitely have to address, probably to promulgate laws that criminalise people and owners of any obstructions in the way of emergency services when they are out to fulfil their urgent duties.
Fuelling oil fires with water
The fire services unpreparedness in dealing with an aircraft fires, was evident from one of the pictures I saw. Water? At first, they did not have enough to quench the fires, but more importantly, aircraft fires are doused with foam because the active propellent is kerosene – water is the very last thing you need to attack a burning inferno fuelled by petroleum products.
Now, the houses that caught fire by reason of the accident might well have needed fire-fighting with water but I doubt a distinction was made of what caused the fires and how to tackle each fire as they raged.
To read that rescuers clashed at the scene of the crash just took my breath away. What were they thinking? How could they not reach a compromise of coordination for the sake of those they came to help? Even in the midst of such great tragedy egos and megalomania reared its ugly head as if this was some competition or contest for a prize – it is shameful.
Rescue minded even when recovering
Then, the authorities had immediately switched to recovery mode as soon as the crash was announced saying there were no survivors when information suggested the plane did not catch fire for another 20 minutes after impact giving the impression some might have survived the crash only to die from negligence and the lack of sensibility of gawking crowds when at least some rescue attempts should have been made.
This informs our mind-set of disaster, we are so lucky in sub-Saharan Africa not to suffer from earthquakes else no one will care if people were buried alive and died weeks after, people discovering the bones many years after the event.
We need a new thinking to disaster response that all is not lost until we have done all possible to assess, access, investigate, review and confirm by examination that indeed, all is lost. The first action should always be to rescue possible survivors and the recovery of remains must be the very last resort without extinguishing all hope.
The last affront
As if the tragedy was not palpable enough, the flight manifest was made public long before all relatives and survivors had been informed of the tragedy. In a country where the management of data is poor and the collection of the same for use is sketchy, one might say the only way to get the information out was to publicise it but for people to first learn of bereavement on social media or the news wires before they were individually and personally addressed as they waited in vain at the airports or watched television at home does leave much to be desired.
We have to have better ways to handling this kind of information, with dignity for the victim, with respect and consideration for their relatives and survivors and much more with a sense of compassion. The press comes after those particular humane needs have been satisfied with all due care and attention.
People with hearts of gold
My friends, there is much to think about after this tragedy and I am moved at the way people have acted with great resolve and initiative to help the victims on the ground, to obtain therapy and counselling for families, to gather help and succour for all concerned – we have the capacity for great human compassion, you sometimes wish a few more of those with minds like that were there to help in the immediate aftermath of the crash. See #DanaCrashAction
Other views on the Nigerian Aviation industry can be found in the links below. Presented as tweets.
Nigerian Aviation: Break It Up To Make It Up – by @DoubleEph http://t.co/WVCUVanv Nigerians have no business running airlines.
Great reporting from @yibukun & @jongambrellAP on the horrible #Nigeria plane crash. http://soc.li/omx2vPE
BBC News - Lagos plane crash: Nigeria suspends Dana Air licence http://bbc.in/NeMq72
How old is your plane in Nigeria? http://is.gd/x3QNtm by@jeremyweate Then in the United States http://is.gd/ROplio Crikey!
BBC News – Global Air disasters timeline http://bbc.in/qMyUmf

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