The coroner’s inquest into the cause of the Dana plane crash continued on Tuesday, with damning revelations by an aviation safety and security consultant, John Ojikutu.
Ojikutu, who was once a Ministerial Committee member on Safety for Airspace Management, faulted the preliminary report of the Accident investigation Bureau (AIB) and the deposition of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency’s (NAMA) Air traffic controller, Rafiq Arogunjo, who was on duty at the time of the incident.
In his testimony, Ojikutu indicted the flight pilots, Arogunjo and the agency he represents, based on the evidence given in their reports.
First, the AIB report stated that?the plane was airborne at 2.58pm, heading to Lagos from Abuja, but that conversations retained between the pilots, by the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), started “about 3.15pm”.
But the first conversation between the pilots, quoted in the report was at 3.41pm, when the First Officer enquired from the Captain , “both engines coming up?”, to which the Captain replied “negative”.
However, the two-time consultant for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) noted that the Flight Officer’s enquiry showed that the pilots had been aware of problems with the engines, prior to the conversation.
“‘…both engines coming up?’, to me, it means, before that time, the two engines hadhad problems,” Ojikutu said.
“By the time they (pilots) noticed the problem, they should have alerted; the distress call should have been declared earlier. They were not concerned, according to the report.”
Ojikutu also brought the court’s attention to Arogunjo’s deposition, which only showed 13 minutes of continuous contact with the aircraft’s pilot during a recorded 43 minute flight.?Arogunjo’s transcript before the court did not show that he had any communication with the flight captain until 3.30pm, 32 minutes after take-off.
Ojikutu said the situation was not in line with standard practice, stressing that there was an omission in the report.
“The controller gave only 13 minutes out of about 44 minutes; the remaining 31 minutes, we don’t know,” Ojikutu said.
Ojikutu urged the court to ask NAMA to explain the omission, explaining that the agency was in charge of traffic control.
He explained that five legs of communication levels,from theflight’s take-off in Abuja to Lagos landing, were missing in the controller’s report.
“The legs start with Abuja tower, which will hand over to Abuja departure, and then, Kano departure, and then Lagos area, then Lagos approach and then Lagos tower,” he clarified.
Arogunjo’s report also showed that the plane had descended to 2,200ft by 3.30pm, and did not make a distress call until 3.42pm.
Ojikutu, however, told the court that the lowest altitude available for planes coming into Lagos is 3,500ft, saying “emergency response should never start when a plane has crashed.”
“There are three stages of emergency: a phase of uncertainty; alert, when you raise alarm; and distress. But the aircraft was at the level of distress (before they acted),” he said.
According to Arogunjo’s report, even after the pilot shouted ‘Mayday-Mayday’, the air traffic controller only directed the emergency call to a junior officer and remained at his desk.
Ojikutu, who claimed to be testifying as an interested party with a passion for the aviation industry, also revealed some of the country’s past flaws in the industry.
Speaking on the October 22, 2005 Bellview?plane crash that killed all 117 persons on board, Ojikutu said it was later discovered that no one had manned the radar on the day.
“We discovered that there was no radar controller on duty, even though, the radar was working,” he said.
On the December 10, 2005 Sosoliso plane crash, Ojikutu said it recorded huge fatality because the fire station right before the crash site was ill-equipped.
He also recalled a plane crash incident in Kaduna, where investigation showed that the “airport controller went home to sleep” when he should have beenon duty.
Ojikutu said the controller cleared the plane to land but did not wait to see it land before going home.
“The next day, he (controller) said he thought the pilot went to the military base to land, but he did not call the base to confirm before going to sleep,” he said.
Ojikutu said he was part of a team to suggest recommendations for NAMA in 2007, but investigation showed that their personnel had not received any training for 15 years.
Drama in court
Earlier, before Ojikutu’s testimony, the counsel to NAMA, Obi Okwusogu, had vehemently kicked against himgiving evidence without a written deposition.
Okwusogu’s cross examination of the witness later turned emotional, which required the coroner, Alexander Komolafe’s intervention to calm rising tensions in the courtroom.
Hearing continues on Wednesday, August 15, 2012, into the cause of the crash that killed all 153 passengers on board and another ten persons on the ground.