Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Missing Aircraft Not Found?

Pls what is this I am hearing? That the Minister of State for Air Transportation, Mr. Felix Hyat not only embarrassed us as a nation over the earlier claim by one of the agencies that the missing Wings Aviation aircraft had been found was totally false.

When President Yar'Adua disclosed that he was prepared to off load some ministers because many of them do not understand their brief, I am sure he had Hyat in mind. Apart from the fact that he doesn't speak well and his thought are usually distorted when briefing pressmen, it is unbelievable that this man will allow such a thing to happen to us and the families of those involved in this missing aircraft
I read he met behind closed doors with heads of agencies in the aviation sector yesterday evening in his office to try to find a way round the elusive aircraft.
This is incredible! Pls read full gist below and me know how you feel right now.

Confusion over Missing Aircraft
From Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Ernest Chinwo in Ogoja, 03.18.2008

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Uncertainty and confusion yesterday took the better of the country’s aviation sector following an embarrassing discovery that an earlier claim by one of the agencies that the missing Wings Aviation aircraft had been found was totally false.
The Minister of State for Air Transportation, Mr. Felix Hyat, who was also caught in the web of the false claim, met behind closed doors with heads of agencies in the aviation sector yesterday evening in his office to try to find a way round the elusive aircraft.
THISDAY gathered that the minister was highly embarrassed at the false information on the finding of the plane more than 48 hours after it was declared missing.
A visibly worried Hyat was said to have barred all the officials from making any public statements on the incident without clearance from his office.
The minister, who had scheduled a press conference for noon yesterday on the finding of the missing aircraft, called off the briefing on the grounds that there were still no clear accounts from the search crew regarding the whereabouts of the plane.
The minister, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Mrs. Rhoda Idiya, said the report credited to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) that the aircraft had been found at Igabu village in Yala Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State is false.
She said following the development, the minister had ordered a team of officials from the ministry to move into the field and join in the search for the missing plane and to forward regular situation reports to his office.
Later, words came to newsmen who gathered for the briefing that the minister had been summoned to appear before Senate Committee on Aviation at the National Assembly.
It was not until 2.30 pm that Hyat came back to the office and proceeded immediately to hold a meeting with the Directors and DGs of the agencies.
None of the officials could utter a word to newsmen at the end of the meeting, preferring instead to shift the matter to the minister.
Idiya, while explaining the reason for the call-off of an earlier scheduled press conference by the minister, said Hyat had not yet got any positive report from the search team concerning the missing plane and as such would not want to comment on the matter.
At the meeting were the Director-Generals of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and National Airspace Management Authority (NAMA).
The DG of NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, who apparently was at the centre of the whole saga, had a running battle with some media men who followed him to get his reaction on the turn of events.
Demuren, in a bid to evade media attention, left the minister’s office and moved fast past the journalists and cameramen before making his way into another office without responding to any question posed to him.
In a statement issued by NCAA yesterday, the agency had claimed that the wreckage of the Wings airline plane had been found together with the three dead crew members.
“The wreckage of the missing Beechcraft 1900D with registration marks 5N-JAH operated by Wings Aviation has been found this Sunday evening, March 16, 2008,” it had said.
Yesterday in Dabu, Cross River State, the search party continued with the recovery efforts until about 6pm without any success.
The land search party led by the Special Adviser to Governor Liyel Imoke on Special Duties, Mr. Casmir Obock, conducted extensive searches in the bushes of Dabu without finding the wreckage of the missing aircraft.
Other members of the team included the Commander of 341 Artillery Regiment, Ogoja, Lt. Col. P B Fakrogah, Chairman of Yala Local Government Council, Mr. Fidel Egoro, Chairman Of Ogoja Local Government Council, Mr. Joe Eweh, the D.P.O. of Ogoja, Mr. S T Okuguru, Chairman of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Mr. Vincent Aqua, and officials of the National Emergency Management (NEMA) from Abuja.
According to Obock, “We engaged the services of local farmers and hunters who came with their dogs to help us locate the plane. We have been at it since midnight on Sunday till late Monday evening and have not been able to locate the crash site. Fisher men who claimed to have seen the plane did not come up to tell us where it is. We have decided to suspend the search today till tomorrow because of the bad weather.”
Chairman of Yala Council, Egoro, also said the search efforts were hampered by lack of equipment and the thick canopy of trees and expansive uninhabited land in the area.
He said: “The vegetation here is too expansive and a thick canopy overhangs the entire landscape, without sophisticated equipment, it would be difficult to locate the place. Our team has been on it since last night and we will not give up until we locate the plane if it is here.”
Also, some frustrated pilots involved in the operation who pleaded anonymity said “since we had combed the entire area in Cross River yet we could not find anything and the search continues tomorrow.”
The state government had earlier ordered a land party in the Northern and Central Senatorial districts to join in the search for the missing plane.
Since the aircraft and its crew were not found by Sunday morning, experts say that NEMA had embarked on “search and recover” mission, no longer “search and rescue” – presupposing that the crew must have died, as they have not been found 36 hours since the aircraft started missing on Saturday.
Aviation experts who spoke to THISDAY said that the major problem with search and rescue in Nigeria is that NEMA is not effectively equipped to undertake a search operation in topographies like the Obudu area and its environs in Cross River State, where valleys and hills combine with ever changing weather and constant rainfall to make flying a challenge.
THISDAY learnt that as early as Sunday afternoon (by 2.00 pm) the helicopters in rescue operation had called off the exercise owing to bad weather, so the search has been half-hearted since Saturday afternoon.
When THISDAY called at the office of Wings Aviation near the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), the security workers said that all the officers of the company had moved to Cross River State to intensify efforts for the search of the airplane.

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