At Least 103 Killed in Nigerian Jet Crash

A Nigerian jetliner carrying 110 people, most of them schoolchildren heading home for Christmas, crashed in a lightning storm Saturday while landing in this delta oil port, and at least 103 people were killed, officials said.

A spokesman for President Olusegun Obasanjo called the disaster "a national tragedy."

Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Sam Adurogboye said early reports indicated that seven people survived the crash of the Sosoliso Airlines' McDonnell Douglas DC-9, which left the capital, Abuja.

"They were breathing and were taken to the hospital. They are responding to treatment," he said.

He did not say if the survivors were passengers or crew members.

In Lagos, Sosoliso spokesman Simbo Olorufemi would only confirm that the crash had occurred, saying, "Most of the passengers might have lost their lives."

The crash was Nigeria's second airplane accident in seven weeks — raising questions about air safety in Africa's most populous nation.

An airport worker said burned bodies lay across the landing area after the plane broke into pieces.

"The place where I'm standing now is scattered with corpses," the worker said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Frantic family members at the airport said the plane was carrying 75 pupils heading home from Abuja for Christmas. The pupils, students at the Loyola Jesuit School, were between 12 and 16 years old.

"It is a national tragedy for us," Obasanjo spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode said. "We need to take all the necessary measures to make sure this sort of thing stops happening."

Adurogboye said there was stormy weather around the airport at the time of the 2:08 p.m. crash and witnesses reported seeing lightning flashes as the plane approached the runway in this southern port city.

Nigerian-owned Sosoliso Airlines was established in 1994. It began scheduled flights as a domestic airline in July 2000 and now flies to six Nigerian cities, according to its Web site.

Information Minister Frank Nweke said Sosoliso had a reputation for being efficient and reliable.

"To my knowledge they haven't had any incidents since they started their operation," Nweke said. "So this has come as a surprise, a very big surprise."

He added: "It's a very terrible situation and very sad." Obasanjo was "devastated," he said.

Nigerian airports have come under criticism in recent months following a string of near-misses and an incident in which an Air France passenger jet crashed into a herd of cows on the runway at Port Harcourt.

International airlines also briefly suspended flights at Lagos' international airport because of holes in the runway.

In October, an Abuja-bound Boeing 737-200 crashed after taking off from the airport at Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city, killing 117 people on board the Bellview Airlines flight.

The cause of that crash is unknown, but U.S. investigators sent to help with the investigation ruled out terrorism, an official at Nigeria's Aviation Ministry said last month.

After the October crash, Obasanjo ordered stricter safety and maintenance procedures for all Nigerian aircraft, directing the aviation ministry to "plug loopholes" to ensure passenger safety.

In May 2002, a domestic EAS Airlines jet plowed into a heavily populated neighborhood after takeoff at the airport outside the northern city of Kano, killing 154 people in the plane and on the ground.

Asked whether this latest crash raised serious questions about air safety in Nigeria, Fani-Kayode said: "Of course, people would be concerned, in view of the circumstances."