ABUJA, Nigeria – A four-member team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board joined Nigerian investigators Wednesday in trying to unravel why a Boeing 737 passenger jet crashed on takeoff, killing 96 people, government officials said.
The American investigators arrived in Nigeria late Tuesday along with representatives of the aircraft maker, Boeing, and engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney, said Remi Ibitola, spokesman for Aviation Minister Babalola Borishade.
An Associated Press photographer saw the team inspect the crash site with Nigerian investigators Wednesday, taking physical and photographic evidence to help with the probe.
The passenger jet operated by the private Nigerian company ADC Airline plunged into a savannah near the airport while trying to take off Sunday for the northwestern city of Sokoto, killing all but nine of the 105 people on board. Among the dead was Sultan Muhammadu Maccido, spiritual leader of Nigeria's estimated 65 million Muslims.
Earlier this week, the aviation minister said the crash might have been averted if the pilot, who died in the crash, had not disregarded air traffic control advice to wait for a storm to abate.
The National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, a body representing Nigerian aircraft pilots, has criticized Borishade's claims, urging him to avoid comments that could prejudice the investigation.
The pilot's widow, Mojisola Atanda, also disputed the minister's assertion, describing it as merely "a political statement" that will be disproved by investigations. She spoke to reporters in Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city.
In parliament Tuesday, Borishade drew criticism from lawmakers who called for his resignation. Nigeria has been hit by three deadly passenger jet crashes in the last year. The latest crash brings fatalities from the three air disasters to more than 320.
On Oct. 22, 2005, a Boeing 737-200 plane belonging to Bellview Airlines crashed soon after takeoff from Lagos, killing all 117 people aboard. Seven weeks later, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 plane belonging to Sosoliso Airlines crashed while approaching the city of Port Harcourt, killing 107 people, most of them schoolchildren going home for Christmas.