United in grief 25 years after crash, scars still visible

  • Flight 086 shattered my dream-Capt Okon
  • Nov 7, sad reminder of my husband’s death-Uloma Afonja

 

Twenty-five years after losing their breadwinners, loved ones in ADC Flight 086 inside the Itoikin River near Ikorodu, the pain is still very deep, the scare is still very visible as some families of victims of the 144 passengers and crew converged on the bank of the river where a cenotaph was erected to offer prayers.

The sleepy Itoikin town came to life as hundreds of family members, children, and friends of the crash victims started thronging the venue as early as 9 am where a memorial service was held for the deceased.

 

Widow of Capt Babajide Afonja, First Officer of the ill-fated Flight 086, Mrs. Uloma Babajide- Afonja 25 years memorial for her husband and 143 others at the bank of Itoikin River where the B727 crashed

The first thing they did was check the engraved names of their loved ones on a marble plaque, offer prayers for the repose of their souls. Many could not hold back tears as many of them were united in grief.

On November 7, 1996, a Boeing 727 operated by Aviation Development Company – ADC – Airlines from Port Harcourt to Lagos crashed at Itoikin River, near Lagos, killing all 144 passengers and crew on board.

The aircraft crashed after it lost control during an evasive maneuver to avoid a mid-air collision. “The untidy traffic separation by the radar controller” was given as the immediate cause of the crash.

Mrs. Uloma Babajide-Afonja, widow of the First Officer (Co-pilot) of the ill-fated flight, Capt. Babajide Afonja who organized the memorial service in conjunction with the former management of ADC Airlines and ex-workers of the airline and other family members of the victims spoke loving of her husband whom she described as highly professional and a great husband amid occasional tears dripping from her eyes.

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She was barely two years into her marriage when the incident happened shares her plans, and travails following that incident. She further shares her love story, recalling memorable moments spent with her beloved husband

She said the remembrance of her late husband who would have been 60 years brings fond memories to her and the lofty plans they had as a young couple.

 

According to her, “Every November 7 is a sad reminder of the death of my husband, Capt. Babajide Afonja and a sad day for the whole family. This morning (Yesterday), my mother-in-law sent a prayer message to me. I feel so sorry for her. You can imagine the pain they go through every time. The scar is still there. Live is too short. Let us share love and celebrate people when they are alive. We miss Jide very much. We shall be visiting my inlaws in Abeokuta tomorrow”.

“Every time I board any flight, I remember the first day I met Jide. You see, Jide told me that he saw me for the first time when I was boarding an ADC flight from Lagos to Calabar. I was at the University of Calabar at that time.

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“ He told me he was looking at the passengers from the cockpit window and noticed me and said to his captain “Capt., that’s my wife”. They both laughed about it, (and) then he requested a cabin crew to get my name which of course, I refused to give her.

“As we were leaving the aircraft, he obstructed my way and took me aside to briefly introduce himself and get my name and hostel number. That was the beginning of his visits to me whenever he had a night stop in Calabar.

A former Managing Director of ADC Airlines, Capt. Augustine Okon who could not hold back tears recalled the pain of the incident that happened 25 years ago.

His words, “I stood here where this cenotaph was erected. I cried like a baby when the accident happened. As I was leaving home for this memorial service, I had a choice of two dresses; a black caftan or a white. I decided to wear white because I am coming to meet the Saints”.

“Friends have told me to move on but it is very difficult for me. As a young man, I had a mission to build the best airline in Nigeria but things came crashing down. I was in Miami, United States when the crash happened. I was rushed to the hospital as my blood pressure rose so high. I was given medication to bring it down. I had to return to Nigeria immediately.”

 

Memorial arcade

“We had the best training as at that time, best maintenance and good management team. I have a copy of the accident report. It was one accident that was thoroughly investigated by the Federal Government, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). It was caused by air traffic error”.

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 Okon noted that the lessons from the accident were enormous, stressing, “We have learned a lot and we will continue to learn. It was totally air traffic error as they were trying to avoid another aircraft coming towards them. We have to get simulators to ensure that this does not happen again in the separation of air traffic”.

 There are changes but a lot more can happen. We are talking about radar, The radar system has changed but we can have tidier separations, good communication, very reliable form of communication because it was the failure of communication that was the major reason for the crash

One of the brothers of Capt. Dafe Sama, Captain of the ill-fated flight, Urhobo Dafe eulogized his late brother for being an outstanding pilot, but regretted the demise of the airline, stressing, “Flight 086 is a very ugly situation. My prayer is that we will never experience Flight 086 again”.

Wole Shadare