It was a saturday like every other; fathers kissed their children goodbye, mothers said they would be right back, the sun had come out to light the earth, the wind gave no signs of what was to come, the skies did not warn us of the cruel day ahead — the evil for the day was one too many.
Olusegun Obasanjo, the president at the time, was sitting at the edge of an emotional chair. His wife, Stella, was undergoing a surgery in Spain. And the president was hoping for the very best. The country was next to sit in that emotional chair.
The Boeing 737-200 aircraft left Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and in 55 minutes, was expected to land at the Nnamdi Azikwe Airport, Abuja. The plane took off with the regular safety instructions, coupled with the normal-Nigerian narrative of making that last call to your loved ones before the flight.
A number of persons had made calls to lovers, children, parents, bosses, business partners, saying they will be in Abuja within the next hour — alas, it was their last call. Many unfinished businesses, many lose ends, many broken relationships.
In a few minutes, after the 7:45pm take off, the 49-year-old pilot, who manned the lives of 116 other people, made a distress call to the control towers, amidst a stormy weather.
According to AP, investigations will later reveal that the pilot took a piloting break of 14-years, before he was hired by Bellview. He was said to have been shot in the head, while he worked at a dairy farm. This cast a lot of questions over his ability to fly a plane — even after he recovered from the incident.
He led a team of six crew members, who catered to the wellbeing of the 111 other persons on the plane. After the distress call, the plane lost control. The pilots’ safety manuals, which were reported to have contained a number of blank pages, in place of key safety information could not save the day.
Like shooting stars, the 117 on board fell to the earth. And the end.
In a matter of hours, news filtered across the nation that the aircraft had gone missing. Perhaps the Police wanted to save face; it released a statement saying the plane had been found about 150 kilometres from takeoff point — in Kishi, Oyo state, and only 50 people lost their lives.
It was later confirmed that the nation had lost every life on that plane. It was double tragedy for President Obasanjo, who also lost his wife after the surgery in Spain. Obasanjo however called on the nation to pray for the families of those involved in the tragic crash.
“The Federal Government announces with regret the unfortunate air crash of Bellview Airlines … which resulted in the loss of life of all passengers and crew on board,” the statement from Obasanjo’s government read.
Every of the 117 persons on that aircraft had a name, had a family, had friends, had loved ones, who had no chance to say their final goodbyes.
Twelve years down the line, a nation remembers no more. But those who lost friends, in-laws, fathers, mothers, brothers, lovers, and ultimately bread-winners, remember with profound sense of love.
Sleep easy countrymen, we have your fond memories enshrined in our hearts.