Saving lives in the air
THE crash into the Lagos lagoon, the other day, of a helicopter operated by Bristow was at once an unfortunate and heart-rending accident. It has added to the catalogue of air mishaps that have plagued Nigeria and brought pain and agony to families that lost dear ones.
Nigeria must stop the spate of air crashes that seems to define the nation’s aviation sector, for a country cannot continue to lose her citizens to accidents that could sometimes be prevented. The relevant authorities should buckle up, do their jobs and save the country the agony and bad image arising from aircraft accidents.
The Bristow helicopter marked 5N – BDG – 760540, with 12 people on board, including the crew, was returning from an Escravos oil rig in not-too-far-away Ondo State, when it plunged into the lagoon, in the Oworonsoki area of Lagos.
The helicopter pilots and contractors who worked for a dredging company were returning to base after two weeks of operation on an oil rig. The chopper, apparently crippled by some mechanical or electrical fault, hovered over the area before spinning and nose-diving into the lagoon with a loud bang, some 900 metres from the shore. The huge sound from impact attracted the attention of onlookers, who tried to rescue the victims on board. Official help did not come immediately but the timely intervention of local fishermen and divers helped to save six lives. Four other people were dead on impact, while the two originally missing were later found dead.
The history of air crashes in Nigeria is horrific and the casualty list is too long. The Dana Air Flight 992 aircraft from Abuja to Lagos, which crashed into the crowded Iju-Ishaga residential suburb of Lagos on June 3, 2012, killed all 153 passengers and 10 people on the ground. There were many such crashes like those of Sosoliso and the ADC Airlines before then and a few even after, though with fewer casualty figures. Officials of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Nigeria Police have since combed the site of the chopper crash or the waters to retrieve its carcass and the black boxes were also found. With these finds, the AIB should ensure that proper analysis is done to unravel the cause of the accident. The outcome of the investigation should be made public and steps taken to avert a recurrence.
Coming at a time when the country has attained Category-1 certification, the crash underscores the need for aviation authorities to work ceaselessly to rid Nigeria of disastrous air accidents and make the nation’s airspace safe as each air crash raises questions about air travel safety. Incidentally, Bristow Nigeria has a good record in aviation and is known to run a very safe operation. For 50 years, the company has been involved in Nigerian aviation and is the largest off-shore provider of helicopter services to the Nigerian oil and gas industry.
The Nigerian arm is part of a conglomerate with its international corporate headquarters in Houston, United States of America, and with operations in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, Australia, Aberdeen, and many other places. The company also provides both civilian and commercial search and rescue (SAR) operations and operates helicopter training at its Bristow Academy. The pilot of the crashed helicopter was trained by Bristow. The company is clearly not a newcomer to the industry, which is the more reason a thorough investigation should be carried out to get to the root of the crash. Also, reports that the chopper is well insured are reassuring.
It is regrettable that owing to the militancy in the Niger Delta and perceived high cost of operations leading to reduction in their profit margins, most international oil companies have left their offices in Port Harcourt and other locations in the Niger Delta for Abuja and Lagos. This entails longer flying time for helicopters that should normally fly short distance. This calls for a re-evaluation and possible review of the operational strategies of the oil companies, especially with regards to the necessity of avoiding long distance helicopter flights.
Too many lives have been lost unnecessarily as a result of air travel accidents. An end must be sought and found to such crashes.