FAMILIES of the victims of the June 3, 2012 Dana plane crash in Lagos, did not collect the bodies of their relations yesterday as they came to the venue of the event unprepared.
Contrary to the directive of the state government, they come to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) with caskets for the collection of the charred remains of the victims, they all came without the vital equipment.
The exercise was further spoilt by a row between journalists and morgue officials, which degenerated into a fisticuff.
When the dust settled, one of the photo-journalists had his head smashed for allegedly attempting to take a shot of the body of one of the deceased.
The first batch of 20 of the victims’ families showed up yesterday for the documentation processes at the Lekan Ogunsola Memorial House in LASUTH.
The initiative by state government to release 20 of the 107 bodies per day, paid off as the process went on smoothly.
The injured photo-journalist was identified as Benedict Uwalaka of the Leadership Newspapers. He is currently receiving treatment at the hospital.
Some family members and friends dressed in black attires completed the documentation processes, but the number of bodies released to their families was not immediately made public.
A representative of one of the families of the deceased, Uchechukwu Ohakaibeya, told The Guardian that the protocol was satisfactory and lauded the state government for choosing to do it differently. Ohakaibeya lost his close friend, Sunday Enumah, in the crash.
The release of the second batch of 20 bodies continues today. There are 132 bodies that have so far been identified, but only 25 have been released to their families since the crash occurred while 16 bodies are yet to be identified.
A family member, however, protested the non-inclusion of his relation’s name on the 132-name list pasted at the crisis centre.
In a reaction, LASUTH Chief Medical Director (CMD), Prof. Adewale Oke, said that the relation’s name must have been among the unidentifiable victims.
“This is because some relations didn’t come forward during the DNA processes. Some bodies were also so badly burnt that they could not do with the DNA materials. But the team of pathologists and examiners are still here to find a way to identify the 16 bodies. We have nothing to gain by keeping the bodies.
“Twenty bodies would be released per day until we’ve exhausted it. After that there will be a meeting with the families of those we cannot identify, to see if we can take more specimen. That will be faster because they are about 20. What happened to the unidentifiable bodies will be determined by the families.”
On the delay in releasing the bodies yesterday, Oke said: “It is because some people would come, complete the documentation process but will not be ready to collect the body. To redeem your body, you have to bring your casket, among others. Some of the relatives begged us yesterday to keep their bodies here while they make preparation. But 20 bodies will be released today (yesterday) barring any of these unforeseen circumstances that has nothing to do with the hospital,” he said.
An eyewitness told The Guardian that officials of the Memorial House had warned the journalists against taking photos of the charred bodies and “they all complied.”
He continued: “None of the pressmen took pictures of the bodies. It was almost becoming a conflict, such that they threatened to seize their cameras.”
A journalist, who witnessed the incident, said: “We decided to leave the scene but in the process of vacating, an official of the morgue pounced on Uwalaka and slapped him.”
He added that the official, simply identified as Bayo, allegedly used an “iron rod on Uwalaka’s head” in a fight.
“There was blood all over his body. After the argument with Bayo and we had them separated, another official, called Idowu, came to Uwalaka, accusing him of taking pictures.
And another melee ensued, with Uwalaka bitting Idowu on the leg, and the latter dashed inside, emerged with a bottle and used on the journalist’s head.
“After that he was looking around again. He went after a concrete block, but in an attempt to use it on the victim, some people intervened and saved the journalist.”
The Commissioner for Information, Lateef Ibirogba, after a closed-door meeting with officers of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Lagos, apologised to the reporters over the incident.
While he noted that there was a standing rule against coverage of bodies “in this case, especially without the permission of the families or hospital management, the clash was condemnable.”
Ibirogba promised that Uwalaka’s camera and phone that were ceased and damaged by the officials would be replaced.
Oke said that Uwalaka was receiving “comprehensive treatment at a special ward” and responding to treatment.
Meanwhile, a Lagos coroner court making inquest into the Dana plane crash that led to the death of 153 passengers has been told that failure by the flight crew to adhere to emergency guidelines led to the tragedy.
Captain Tito Omaghomi who claimed he had more than 32 years experience as a pilot yesterday told the court presided over by Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe that his opinion of the preliminary report of the Accident Investigation Bureau was that the pilot and his crew failed to keep to necessary checklists to prevent fatalities.
Omaghomi, a retired pilot of the defunct Nigerian Airways, while being led in evidence by Femi Falana (SAN), said checklists are items and actions you take in the operations of a plane. The ex-pilot, who said he retired from flying commercial planes in 1993, noted that his view of the AIB’ s report was that “it was a disorganised cockpit and that it became a flight that nobody had control.”
According to him, “the pilot did not call for help when he should have done so, that is, at the time when the plane had already lost two engines.”
He quoted the rules as saying that no pilot flies for more than 100 hours in a month. He said he observed that the pilot of the ill-fated plane had put in 120 hours of flight within 13 days. This he said was illegal.
According to Omaghomi, between 1965 and 2003, there were only 17 accidents while there have been almost 21 of them from 2003 till date.
Earlier, an Aviation Operations Manager with Total Nigeria PLC, Daniel Akpokoje, in his testimony before the court, said the last time Dana Air bought fuel from his company was November last year.
He stated that normally before fuel is supplied to an aircraft, several checks are made to ensure that there are no sediments or water mixed with it.
Magistrate Komolafe subsequently adjourned hearings till August 13, 2012 in consideration for relatives who are now collecting the remains of their loved ones who died in the crash.