Monday 3 June 2013

And the sky ended at Iju-Ishaga

by Alkasim Abdulkadir

It is the first tragic anniversary of the crash of Dana Aircraft 5N-RAM, but the pain of loss for family and friends continues to linger on, as fresh as ever. The sense of loss is heightened by the human angle stories and life-journeys all the passengers travelled to arrive on board the ill fated aircraft. The enormity of loss to families, business associates, corporations and economic interests are beyond being quantified.

Life indeed momentarily lost its meaning for the churches that lost their pastors, the commands that lost their military chiefs, the wives who lost husbands, the kids who became orphaned and husbands who lost loving wives and those who lost their homes and their entire personal belongings. This list of filial loss is endless. The entire country was interconnected in the loss in more ways than one.

It was meant to be a routine flight ferrying passengers from Abuja to Lagos, for some of the passengers who were loyal to brands, they were flying their favourite airline. While for others it was the case of the available airline becoming the desirable. The plane had 153 passengers alongside six crew members.  However, as it was later reported by civil aviation authorities’ the plane crashed around 3:45 p.m -after the crew of the aircraft declared May Day, some 11 nautical miles or 5 minutes to Lagos.

The news of the tragic crash trickled slowly onto social media feeds. The Face book and Twitter messages poured in, in torrents; at first there was a discernible disbelief and denial. Then the eyewitness accounts starting tweeting that the plane had gone down in Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos State. The frenzy, the frenetic phone calls, the seeming slow response of emergency and essential services; the ubiquitous congestion and total lack of urban planning that prevented fire fighters from gaining access to the scene of the crash all added to the sombre national mood.

There was also the resilience of the Nigerian spirit, the scores of volunteers who fought the raging fires ignited by the viciousness of jet fuels. While on social media, the names, pictures, last text messages and black berry messages meandered their way slowly online, giving an entire new dimension to the grieving.

As relatives, friends and associates besieged the airports for the manifest -in denial that they will never share laughter, joys or failures with their loved ones again. Those waiting at the airport –the airport ritual of a spouse coming for a pick up, or a friend or perhaps driver waiting at the airport to receive a passenger had morphed into a surreal drama of passengers that will never ever walk down the tarmac to their waiting handshakes and warm embraces.

As the crowd, wailed in disbelief and denial they waited patiently both in Abuja and Lagos airports; they had besieged Dana Air’s office for the Manifest. Some didn’t even wait for the manifest, they were sure their kith and kin were on board.  Online news mediums and blogs thus started releasing the names on the manifest some of them even before their families had been informed of the ill fated crash. As each new name and background story came to fore, it shocked then broke the heart of the nation all over again.

In the wake of the air crash and the unfolding trauma that besieged various homes and families,President Goodluck Jonathan, declared three days of national mourning. There is an iconic picture of him dabbing an eye with his handkerchief and wearing the mourning garb of black. He was quoted as saying the air crash was an incident that had “sadly plunged the nation into further sorrow on a day when Nigerians were already in grief…” The president amidst the mourning further stated that “every possible effort” would be made to boost the nation’s aviation safety.

The Minister of Aviation too flew to Lagos to personally take charge of affairs, the crash happening under her watch meant it was a personal tragedy to her, she was inconsolable.
The residents of Iju-Ishaga also mourned and buried their own. The individual stories still bear the same freshness of wanton pain; there is Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Chime, parents of Antonia Attuh a CBN staff, who first heard about their daughter’s death on CNN.

Echendu Ibe and her daughter Jennifer never made it to India where they had hoped to treat the younger Ibe’s heart defect. Vivien Effiong Atangakak, a crew member on the ill fated, was not to live to see her wedding day planned for July. And there was Levi Ajounouma the spokesman of the NNPC, Farida Shehu Kaikai starting an illustrious career at Aso Savings and Loans or Inna Kulthum who left behind her twin sister, separated by the tragedy and Chuks Okocha who will not see the fruits of the entrepreneurs he had raised at Fate Foundation.

The entire nation mourned what was one of our deadliest air mishaps, across religious and ethnic divides, Nigerians stood united beneath flags flown at half mast and mourned our collective losses. Collectively we all recounted and prayed for Maimuna and Onyeka Anyene who by the sheer number of their family members had suffered the greatest loss for they died alongside their three young children and three other relatives, all together nine of them died in the crash

There are organisations also struggling to fill the vacuums left by the departed souls most definitely continue to miss them trying to still fill the void of nothingness they left behind from NNPC to NUC, CBN, Fate Foundation, the Nigerian Army, FUTO  amongst several others. The citizens from America, China, Lebanon and France

A year later their memories burn so fresh, the embers of their tragic departure refuses to die out. However, as we continue to mourn and pray for the repose of their souls, we succor in the words of the poet Percy Byshe Shelly “The splendors of the firmament of time May be eclipsed, but are extinguished not; Like stars to their appointed height they climb And death is a low mist which cannot blot The brightness it may veil.”


Post a Comment