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Connecticut family, Houston-area sisters among the dead in Nigeria plane crash, family says

OnitaSisters.jpg

FILE: This photo shows Jennifer, left, and Josephine Onita.MyFoxHouston

A family of six from Connecticut and two Houston-area sisters were feared to be among the 160 people who were killed when a passenger plane crashed in Nigeria Sunday.

Maimuna Anyene, who worked at United Technologies Corp. in Hartford, Conn., and her husband, Onyeke, were on their way to a family wedding with their four young children, ranging in age from 5 months to 3 years.

Neighbor Elyse Fox  told the Hartford Courant, "She really was a wonderful person. She always had a smile on her face. The kids were always happy."

The family of sisters Jennifer and Josephine Onita tells MyFoxHouston the girls were aboard the doomed flight that crashed Sunday into a neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria's most populous city.

The family says the sisters had traveled to Nigeria to go to a wedding. Newscore reports the sisters are believed to be in their mid-20s and lived in Missouri City, which is southwest of Houston. 

Both attended Texas universities, with Josephine Onita attending the University of North Texas and Jennifer Onita a student at Texas Tech.

Airline officials said Monday that the pilot of the doomed aircraft was also an American, though neither the pilot's name nor any other details were released.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said earlier in the day the department believes many Americans were aboard the plane, though it is too soon to know exactly how many.

"We're still, frankly, unable to provide a firm number," he said. "I can also say that our consulate in Lagos is working both to notify the next of kin and also provide any appropriate consular assistance."

All of the 153 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft died, and it is believed more people were killed as it smashed into a two-level apartment building on the ground.

Among the dead passengers were six Chinese citizens, while the co-pilot was Indian, Nigerian civil aviation chief Harold Demuren said.

US officials are assisting with the investigation into the crash, which is expected to take months.

The 22-year-old plane is said to have been sold by Alaska Airlines three years ago and, according to an unnamed official cited by The Guardian, had experienced previous problems -- including two instances of smoke billowing from the cockpit.

The plane, which was flying to Lagos from the capital Abuja, was in use despite Nigeria's ban on aircraft over 20 years old.

Demuren said the pilots had called mayday before the crash, saying that both engines had failed. It is still unclear what caused the failure, with speculation ranging from faulty parts or a lack of fuel to a bird collision.

At least one of the plane's two cockpit recorders had been found, officials said.

Rescue workers had recovered at least 137 bodies by Monday evening, with most of those victims believed to be passengers in the plane, AFP reported.

Officials have turned their attention to the ruins of the two-story residential building, where more bodies are expected to be found.

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Newscore contributed to this report.